Polaroid Week is a celebration of instant film held on Flickr twice a year— Spring and Autumn. This community-driven project started as far back as 2006 and continues to drive interest and significant participation after almost 14 years of sharing and engaging with other lovers of the medium. To celebrate the start of this year’s Autumn ‘Roid Week on October 18, we’ve done a Q&A with some of the group’s most devoted members: Therese Brown, Julia Beyer, Laura Watt, and Chris Blackhurst. Read on to learn more about their love of instant film and get inspired to participate in this month’s Polaroid Week.
Can you please introduce yourself?
Therese: I currently live in Richmond, VA, after transplanting from the SF bay area. I’ve been practicing photography since my kids were babies, so about 30 years. When I came to Flickr in 2004, it introduced me to many different kinds of cameras, techniques, and options for bringing my ideas to expression.
Julia: I live in Essen, in the Ruhr area in Germany. I work in a huge media agency full-time where I am juggling with numbers the whole day, so being creative with Polaroid film is a nice counterpoise to that. Before I started to dive headfirst into Polaroid photography, music always was my main focus in my spare time.
Laura: I’m Laura Alice Watt, and ordinarily, I work as a professor of environmental history at Sonoma State University in northern CA, but this year I have a Fulbright scholarship to work on a landscape research project in the Westfjords of Iceland. Lucky me!
Chris: My name is Chris Blackhurst, and I live in a particularly grey area of North West England called Wigan. I normally just say I come from Manchester, as it’s the nearest city and more people have heard of that. And it’s a bit more glam! I’m not a “pro-photographer” by any stretch of the imagination. I have a day job that is actually a lot less glamorous than it sounds. I usually just refer to myself as a civil servant to avoid prejudice.
Can you tell us about your journey with instant photography and why you chose this medium?
Therese: I don’t only use instant photography, but it’s one of my go-to forms when I want small, unique pieces of artwork. I love how I can have a little physical memento from the get-go, to scan and incorporate into books (I’ve done a couple of those), or to frame in unusual ways. The immediacy of having the physical piece of work is what inspires me.
Julia: Starting to shoot on Polaroid film was something like a revelation to me. The dreaminess of the film captivated me. When I started shooting, I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of Polaroid film, so I shot it very carefully and mostly when I was out in nature or on vacation. I was amazed that the Polaroids I posted online quickly gained some attention, even by Polaroid (The Impossible Project back then). It then started to get somehow serious around the same time that I started to shoot with people in 2017. I was too insecure about my photography before, but I realized how much fun this is once I started shooting portraits.
Laura: I got into Polaroids and instant photography through Flickr. In February 2007, my friend Cate Rachford (we met in person at a San Francisco Flickr meet-up) gave me a Spectra camera, as I’d admired her recent dip into Polaroids, and Spectras were selling for about 20 dollars back then. I quickly added several more cameras to my collection. I just fell in love with the serendipity involved with shooting instant film. The amazing glow one can get with the light, that’s very different from other types of film, and far more interesting than digital photography at the time, which felt very flat and lackluster.
Chris: I first showed a real interest in photography in 2008, inspired by my dad, who used to take me out with his Minolta SLR in my childhood. I bought a DSLR and had absolutely no direction. This was soon replaced with a Voigtlander R2M after happening across an online forum, and from there, my love of film photography blossomed.
What instant camera do you use and what makes it unique?
Therese: Currently, I’m using a Lomo’Instant, Lomo’Instant wide, and Instax Wide cameras with Instax film. I tend to use the Instax wide for outdoor photos because it gets appropriate exposure and vibrant colors—the Lomo’Instant for carrying in my pocket on walks, using for multi exposures, especially in nature. Finally, the Lomo’Instant Wide I use for more fantasy multi exposures plus close up work with the close-up lens.
Julia: I mostly use the Mint Camera SLR 670s. It is an original vintage Polaroid SX-70 camera but tweaked by the Hong Kong-based company Mint. They alter the electronics in the camera and add a control piece at the flash slot that makes it possible to control the camera’s shutter speed manually. It also has auto settings for both SX-70 and 600 film, so I feel that I have the most possible flexibility in a very compact body. And the image quality is amazing!
Laura: I currently use a combination of my Polaroid SLR 680, SX-70, Automatic 250, and most recently added an Automatic 180. I no longer use my Spectra, as the recent batches of film were too buggy, and I think they’ve stopped producing the film. I’m heartbroken that peel-apart film is going extinct, as I think it’s my favorite medium—a combination of clarity of images with a good dose of filmy weirdness. My stash of peel-apart film is dwindling rapidly, but I’m glad I brought everything I had with me to Iceland. It’s the perfect place to use it up.
Chris: I have two vintage, classic Polaroid bodies. I have a Polaroid SLR680, which is my go to body for indoor shoots usually. I felt quite lucky with that, scoring it from a charity store for a lot less than they go for online.I also have an SX-70 Time Zero Sonar. It’s a bit special, in that it’s a beautiful example that has been fully refurbished and re-skinned by Dan at Polanthropy in the UK but also modified so that it shoots both SX-70 film or 600 at the flick of a very discrete switch. I love it!
How do you define your photographic style?
Therese: Homey, warm, and emotive, I would say. Plus fantasy figures in different settings.
Julia: I don’t want to show the scene that I see before me like it is—then I could as well shoot digital—but I love to add a dreamlike and surreal layer to it. This is why I work with expired film or prisms and color filters a lot. Instant photography is a much-needed escape from reality for me, and I also want to convey this feeling in my photos.
Laura: It’s opportunistic and eclectic—I use a lot of different cameras and films, and I am fine with just using my cellphone if that’s all I have with me. I’m interested in the relationships between people and the natural world, as I am in my academic work, and that certainly comes through in my photographs.
Chris: I describe my style as “dreamy, evocative and intimate, often sensual, frequently abstracted and occasionally ethereal,” but you’ll probably find a lot of those descriptors used by other Polaroid shooters. Especially dreamy. And with good reason. While I have historically concentrated on shooting people, especially beauty, I’m upping my game this year by moving onto other subject matter. We’ll see how that goes.
What are your best tips for someone who wants to get started with instant film cameras?
Therese: Pick up an Instax and have fun! Get familiar with the camera and how it works in different settings. When you’re happy with that, if you find you need more controls, check out some of the other cameras on the market that allow for long exposures, multi exposures and have various lens adapters.
Julia: If you are not sure yet if this is for you, I recommend beginning with an easy-to-use camera like the new Polaroid NOW or a vintage Polaroid box camera like the 636. The latter is available at very affordable prices on eBay and does nearly always still work perfectly. Also, Polaroid film loves a lot of light, so you get the best results when shooting outdoors in bright light. Considering the relatively high price for the film, you might want to think carefully about your subject. When I was starting to shoot on Polaroid film, this really impacted how I shoot, and I love the deceleration that comes with it. And don’t let yourself get disheartened when the first results don’t turn out like you hoped – keep shooting!
Laura: My best tip for someone interested in instant film is to get the best second-hand camera you can afford and start shooting! One of the great things about any kind of film, in contrast to digital, is that it forces you to slow down and really consider your shots since you only have a limited number. I firmly believe that makes for better photography.
Chris: Unless you have a decent disposable income, maybe shoot Instax first. It’s cheaper than Polaroid film but just too perfect for me. I love the chemical flaws and unpredictability of Impossible, Polaroid Originals, and Polaroid films. If you can reconcile yourself with its occasional flaws and the relative expense, you should just jump straight in and maybe start with a boxy Polaroid 636 Close Up if you want vintage. Or if you’re particularly “down with the kids,” go for the newer One Step+ or Polaroid Now. The less you spend on the camera, the more food you can give it! But that was a lesson I never really learned.
Have you joined any interesting Flickr groups around instant photography lately?
Therese: I try to always participate in the ‘RoidWeek groups twice a year and belong to the Instax group.
Chris: There are too many! And they’re all equally as nice, and the community is lovely, welcoming and helpful—more than any photographic community I’ve ever happened across, but if I had to pick because I’m not young and nostalgia does it for me, I like groups like The Impossible Project. I loved the Impossible Project and miss the brand and their connection with their community. Also, The Polavoid, Pryme Magazine (now seemingly frozen in carbonite), and Polanoiders. I have a sweet spot for the ‘Roid Week group too, of course.
Polaroid Week is a tradition recognized on Flickr year after year, in which people share their latest instant film captures. No matter what instant camera you use, we’d love to see your captures.