May 5, 2012

Time Zero

In 2008 a bankrupt Polaroid stopped production of the last of its instant film. I was fortunate enough to be in Boston last weekend for the world premier of Time Zero , a documentary which follows that demise and it's reformulation thanks to Dr. Florian Kaps and The Impossible Project. Grant Hamilton (above) is the filmmaker and although the film would have benefitted from a much tighter edit, it's a great story and a fantastic first film for Grant. 

Like many, I hold a special place for Polaroid. I've been taking photos almost as long as I've been walking and some of my earliest pictures show me with my Land camera around my neck. Sharing a physical print soon after you've taken it drives home photography's ability to connect us. A Polaroid was a special thing, a one-of-a-kind archival print with an unique color palette and less-than-perfect exposure that's somehow very human. My Pentax 645D creates stunning digital exposures but a Polaroid is magic. 

I especially enjoyed learning more about Dr Edward Land, the brooding genius behind Polaroid. He was a special hero to one of my heroes—Steve Jobs—and it's easy to see why. Dr Land's favorite expression was "Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible." Steve Jobs lived that mantra, along with the inevitable failure that's next of kin to life as a pioneer. They were both artists who used technology as their palette to create profoundly transcendent consumer products. Dr Land also reminds me of my future boss Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. Elon is another man with a vision who won't stop until it's realized. Human beings can achieve extraordinary things when they have the right person to inspire them. 

The Impossible Project is aptly named as all the experts said that making Polaroid film was no longer possible. And they were right as many of the chemicals used in the original formulation are no longer available.  So Dr Kaps and a team of ex-Polaroid employees swooped down at the last minute to buy the last remaining film production equipment from bankrupt Polaroid and proceeded to reformulate the process. The Impossible Project consists of less than two dozen employees and is based in Austria. Their focus is on the integral films like those used in the SX-70 that develop without the mess of peel-apart. In fact the film mentioned that Dr Land developed this amazing technology because he hated seeing all the peel-apart litter. There's even more magic to watching the film develop in daylight, right in front of you, already framed with the print's distinctive white borders. 

A representative from The Impossible Project was at the screening and said they've sold over a million packs of film last year. They have several types of black & white and now have a color formulation for SX-70 and Spectra cameras. They also sell refurbished cameras and I have my eye on the one Polaroid I never owned as a kid, the SX-70. It's never too late to relive some childhood magic. 

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