Fotofilmic recently held a series of 8×10 Impossible film workshops and I got to attend one at the Griffin Museum of Photography. What a cool night!I’m a sucker for vintage photography equipment as well as vintage processes, so when I saw that Fotofilmic was holding a 8×10 Polaroid workshop in Boston at the Griffin Museum, I was all in! In actuality the film was the 8×10 integral material produced by the Impossible project, which is even better since you can actually get the stuff.
Large format instant film is a different beast. Most photographers never used the stuff even back when it was made and the process takes some time to get the hang of. But the folks from Fotofilmic walked us each through loading the special film cassettes.
Then it was on to the actual camera. What a beauty! The camera was an old Kodak folding view camera and it operated like a finely made pocket watch- solid and sure with all the signs of having been made by hand. Now I’ve worked with smaller 4×5 view cameras before, but the 8×10 was something else entirely. For one thing, the image is so big in the ground glass, so you really have to concentrate on the composition and focusing. Speaking of which, if you wear reading glasses don’t forget to bring them. I left them in the car and the first time I tried to focus and it was pretty much impossible. A quick run to the parking lot and we were in business.
Once we were all set up, it was time to make the exposure.
That part was at least like the rest of my film experience. Then on to the processing. The Impossible 8×10 film is a two part setup similar to the original Polaroid. You place a receiver sheet plus the chemical pod in the machine (you can see the pod at the top of the clear sheet in the next photo), then lock the film cassette in place.
Push the button and the negative, receiver and pod are pulled through a set of rollers that smooshes a chemical paste across the negative and eventually transfers the image to the receiver. The difference here from the Polaroid setup is that the receiver is transparent, so you get an integral film similar to what comes out of an SX-70 (if it were on steroids). The film is light sensitive after developing so it stays in a dark holding tray until a timer bell goes off. And then….
The results were amazing! My iPhone photos and even the scans don’t quite do the results justice. They have a certain atmospheric quality that is closer to the wet collodion process than to Polaroid. The image is reverse left to right, so writing is backward which I think is actually kind of neat. But what I found cool was the artifact nature of the print. The print you hold in your hand participated in the process of its creation. Think about it- a photon traveled through space, struck you subject and reflected off, was then focused through the camera’s lens and struck the film where it deposited energy by activating a sliver halide crystal which became part of the image. Years from now when someone holds that print, they hold an object that was not just present in the room with the sitter, but something that had a physical interaction with them.
If you missed the recent tour, check out Fotofilmic’s website for future ones, as well as scans of prints from all of the workshops. It’s definitely worth it! I’m jonesing for more 8×10- I just need a camera. And one of those polaroid processors. And a truck to carry it all!
Disclaimers for all of this: I’m not associated with Fotofilmic or the Impossible Project (I just believe both are doing some great stuff!) and I paid to go to the workshop.
Lucas James is a fine art photographer based in Manchester, NH.