The Instant Camera Trick

dscf4676We’ve all had instant cameras of some sort at one time or the other – I’ve used Polaroid and Fujifilm materials in proprietary cameras for decades to produce instant results for newspapers or brochures. I’ve used backs for other cameras that made proof shots during studio work – sometimes the ability to see a quick image has saved a world of pain later.

But now there is a dearth of the adapter backs and sheet film and the game has narrowed down to small film pack cameras that spit out an SX-70 style of colour print. It develops itself outside the camera in 5 minutes. Fortunately they are so popular that they are made by a number of manufacturers and look to barrel ahead on a successful market. They have long been the device of choice for Japanese schoolgirls and now look to be taken up by European hipsters as well.

I have been cynical about this but had the experience of using one of the new expensive designer instant cameras at a recent club function has shown that it is a good thing – good on number of levels:

a. The instant cameras are as good as they need to be – the Japanese ones are as cute as their owners and the European ones as pretentious as theirs – no one is forced to be what they are not. The Japanese ones are bright and poppy while the European ones remind you of German car colours that no-one else in the world wants.

b. The film is the same. I suspect the chemists at Fujifilm mined the Polaroid archives for ideas that worked and then reverse-engineered the film. It is at least as good as the old Polaroid material and probably somewhat better. Land is long gone and their lawyers may still be fighting over the spoils but at least the shooting public has film.

c. The things work. Load it in one plop, look through the viewfinder at the subject, and press one button. You will get a reasonable result. You can refine it with subsequent shots if need be but this is party pictures…

d. It is not proofing film. It proves nothing as far as digital or film shooting. It is what it is in toto.

dscf4673e. The very act of shooting someone with an instant camera and then giving them the developing print is a very good social tool. Far better than capturing them with a digital and just showing the back.

dscf4680The film developing in their hand from dead white to full colour in 5 minutes is actual magic in most minds. There is a maelstrom of chemistry going on in there as the chemical processes meld and change, far more than anything in the digital world. The subject of the picture watches themselves emerge from the white with fascination.

The act of shooting a picture requires trust on the part of the subject – getting the one and only picture of the exposure to hold themselves gives them control again over the situation. It is a powerful way to make either a friend or an enemy. Fortunately the modern instant camera can  do a pretty good job with no expert input and horrid results are rare.

The fact that the picture is an expense that the photographer incurs is also a factor here – the common( and mistaken ) view that a digital picture is free devalues it to the same level. The instant picture costs and is seen as having some worth.

Now if the companies that make the cameras can address the appearance of the device…more dignified colours or shapes…they may have real winners. I am not suggesting a return to the folding cameras of the 40’s Polaroid but the Leica SOFORT is a pointer in the right direction. Not so sure about the duck-egg blue or orange bodies though…

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