It’s always exciting to hear the post come through the door, and to find that I am in print, especially when it is such a fine publication as Shots magazine. The image was my homage to Neil Armstrong, shot on an SX-70 and Impossible Project’s Silver Shade (poor pod batch). As ever, Shots is a boost of inspiration, reminding me that I need to shoot more.
April was an interesting month indeed. The New55 Film project ran a Kickstarter campaign, and we got funded!
A few years ago, my father bought me this curious camera at the street market in Pissignano (TR). He remembered having been photographed on a similar machine when he was a teen, maybe in Naples or Rome, but we were not clear on how they worked. Deduction showed a lightproof storage chamber, a long sleeve, a very crude shutter mechanism, what I thought to be a printing-out window at the top, and two vertical chemical trays in the bottom. What he remembered was that they were used by photographers to take street portraits of people, and hand them a print just minutes later. And hence its vague connection to Polaroid. But the similarity ends there.
My reason for writing this, is that I just stumbled upon this website, which has a wonderfully comprehensive study on the use of these cameras in Afghanistan. The site explains how they work, and also has an extensive collection of photographs taken with them, and of them in use today. It even has an eBook to download, which explains how to build one. It is hardly worth noting, but the authors of the website do specify that the Afghani street cameras have an internal focus mechanism (moving the paper negative to and from the lens), as opposed to having a bellows, like my camera, to focus in a more typical manner.
The use of the kamra-e-faoree is hardly practical – by our modern expectations – but nonetheless wonderful. In principle, a photograph is exposed onto silver-gelatine paper. The paper negative is then developed and fixed within the darkroom of the camera body, and placed on a stand at the front of the camera where it is re-photographed, to produce a positive (again on paper), which is developed, fixed and then rinsed in a bucket or fountain.
Though the Afghani cameras were predominantly used for ID photographs, the process they use is identical to that of the European tourist cameras: a system that I imagine has been in use worldwide, but seems to have slipped past most of our knowledge, and is not mentioned in any book that I have ever read on photography.
Somehow this process seems both more romantic and more practical than those predatory snappers who plague tourist traps with cameras, and hand you a card offering you prints the next day from their studio (though I don’t know if this still happens, as I have not been a tourist since the advent of digital photography).
Bob Crowley and I have been working on the New55 project for well over a year now. I forget even when it started. His blog has been visited heavily by eager fans of Polaroid Type 55, and criticised widely by some less-grateful citizens of the photographic community.
So how far have we got? Bob made the initial jump, by creating a first monobath reagent. He chose Kodak’s HC-110 as a developer base, as it has a long lifespan. He was using Ammonia and Ammonium Thiosulphate to boost pH and fix, but I got poor results from his mixture, and could not stand the smell, even with a respirator and ventilation (yes, my workshop is also the kitchen, so this mean the window and balcony door being open). So now that we knew it was possible to process a 4×5″ B&W neg in one pass, I moved on in my own direction. My first aim was to make the soup odourless, so I moved towards Sodium Thiosulphate and Sodium Hydroxide. My 8th mixture is what I started calling Reagent 4 beta 8, but now it is just R4. In under 5 minutes at 20c I was able to obtain negatives from Efke PL25, rated at 25ISO, that had a density and balance that is close to the delicacy that we like in T55. I was pleased.
The next step that Bob had been making over in Boston at the N55 “labs” at Soundwave Research were in assembling prototypes of pod-developed film to be field processed in a Polaroid 545 back. So I tried to figure out what the minimum amount of water needed to dissolve the solid chemicals in R4 was (not easy for a trial and error chemist like myself), and then added some Methylcellulose to the mixture to thicken it. I had made up about 2 35mm film canisters of reagent, and popped them in the film fridge. My first test was rather spartan, taping black paper and scraps together in a changing bag.
So what we have here is a control image developed in HC-110 dil-B as per normal, then a similar exposure (I was exposing 4 sheets at a time for tests) from my kitchen window in R4(b8), followed by a composite of my first p/n pod processed test (using fixed-out MGIV paper as a receiver), and finally the test that I did last night: the goop has been in the fridge for over a month, but my getting a heat sealer meant I could make pods, so I had to give it a shot, and it seems to work just fine. I taped things together in the changing bag, and using electrical tape as a light seal means that it has a tendency to buckle and thus break even contact between the surfaces. Oh well. But it proves the validity of my R4 even as a pod processed p/n. I can’t tell if the apparent contrast is to do with the concentrated chemicals, or just the fact that the chemicals were ‘mottled’ on the surface of the film, thus developing unevenly. The image was stable when I peeled it apart, but of course the anti-halation was still there, so i popped it in some fix to clear this, which is also less hassle than the Sodium Sulphate to clear T55 goop.
Now to order some Shanghai 4×5, get some receiver from Bob (via the 20×24 studio scraps corner), and some other bits, and I am curious to try and work with an all-raw chemicals mixture too.