Some thoughts on The Impossible Project (and their new PX680 film)
EDIT: Sorry if you had issues viewing the images before – this has now been corrected.
Last night, I found myself standing outside a bar at closing time. I steadied my boxy blue Polaroid 600 camera, adjusting down and to the left to compensate for the parallax error. Finding the perfect frame, I tapped the shutter button. A clunk – the camera whirred, and out sprang the first artsy colour Polaroid I’d shot in ages. The bar owner, caught in the act of stacking chairs, looked a little perplexed for a moment, then carried on unfazed. I’m sure he must get this all the time.
I’ve been buying film from The Impossible Project for a couple of years now. They’re a small team that took over an old Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and attempted to make their own version of the much loved, sadly discontinued film.
This is a daunting task, and they’ve done it without any help from Polaroid themselves (who seem content to make printers strapped to digital cameras). As an avid Polaroid shooter, I was keen to support their fledgling efforts like you might, perhaps, clap your small child during their first school play. However, much like that school play, the enthusiasm and support you give doesn’t let you escape the fact that the product isn’t actually very good.
The early colour films from Impossible were hazy, washed out and ludicrously sensitive to light. I had to shoot straight into a beanie hat to stop them getting wrecked, which lead many of my shots to have a fluffy brown UFO near the bottom. It was frustrating for this to keep happening because Impossible only provide 8 shots a packet, rather than the traditional 10, which leads to whopping cost per shot of around £2.50. What’s even worse is that they were prone to a crystalisation and fading problems that would destroy even the ones you did manage to shoot right and unhatted. I sighed over my old Polaroid shots – so crisp, so bright…
Impossible was delivering an expensive, inferior product – but I stuck by them. I invested in a new frog tongue to shield the shots from light, I experimented with different films they produced, I even bought a brand new camera (brand new old one, that is). I was a big fan of the silver film they knocked out. It had a more contrasty look, that you could nudge into sepia depending on the temperature it was shot, which I thought was fairly neat. AND YET! Everytime I came back to the Colour films, it let me down. My last batch, gold framed colour ones bought for a Christmas party, let me down massively. Underexposed every time, despite my setting adjustments. Managed to get two useable shots out of a batch of eight. I swore off Impossible Colour films.
And then I started seeing what was being produced with this new PX680 Colourshade Cool product. I was impressed enough to buy a couple of packs for a party, to see what would happen. It was quite odd having to store it in the fridge before hand, although part of me loves that – used to do that with old 35mm stuff at home. On the whole picture taking front, wouldn’t cha know it, it turns out the stuff is decent. That’s relatively decent, of course. It’s prone to crystals still, the colours trend towards the warm, it’s a very fast film so needs exposure adjustment AND still quite fiddly in that once you’ve taken the shot, you have to leave it to develop upside down for ten minutes, which robs you of the thrill that was watching an old Polaroid develop.
These caveats aside, the PX680 Cool is a huge step in the right direction. The contrast is much better, and undeveloped spots are very rare. I bought a few packs to experiment with. Below are two pictures I just shot on Lower Marsh. As you can see, I forgot to adjust exposure so they’re a little blown out and soft (you’re supposed to be able to see the London Eye in that 2nd one…really tied the shot together). I’ve gotten used to the idea that the Impossible Polaroid aesthetic will never be quite the same as the old stock, but I am still genuinely excited to experiment with this film in order to find the perfect settings for each situation. More night time traipsing in store.