Instant success


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Instant success

4 Jul 2020 9:13AM   Views : 459 Unique : 344


I chimp. Do you chimp? Chimping is fun, and it tells us – if we can be bothered – how well our pictures are going. On the other hand, I sometimes find a film that I put in the darkroom and somehow forgot. Oops – but it’s fun discovering afresh something that you did a long time back.

In the early days of photography, there was little choice but to prepare you glass plate, expose it, and develop the image in quick succession as you could, because the plates went off rather fast. It may have required a couple of hours end to end, but it was a sort of forerunner of chimping. The end-to-end process couldn’t be divided, so you got feedback on the work necessarily rapidly.

As photographic emulsions became more stable, it became possible to ignore what you’d done for a while. There was time to forget what you’d done, and lose the immediacy of feedback. By the time I started taking pictures, you could get sheets to record exposure details of each image – and I suspect that some people who didn’t use them made a record for specific tricky images.

In between, Edwin Land invented the Polaroid camera because he wanted to be able to show his son pictures just after taking them. Polaroid film packs contained two ‘films’ and a series of pods of developing chemicals. After taking each picture, you pulled the film from the camera. The internal mechanism squeezed a pair of sheets of paper together between stainless steel rollers, bursting a pod and spreading the chemicals evenly between the sheets.


The chemicals developed the latent image on the sheet exposed to light, and allowed a positive image to migrate onto the second sheet. All the user had to do was measure time – typically a minute – and then peel the sheets apart to reveal a positive print and a messy paper negative to discard. One version used a sheet of film instead of paper, and the negative could be ‘fixed’ and washed for use in an enlarger.

There was even a 35mm version, although I never tried it. Professional photographers often shot test images on Polaroid to check lighting and exposure: many medium format camera manufacturers offered Polaroid backs to facilitate this.

In around 1980, Polaroid produced a new type of film with all of the chemicals in a sealed plastic sheet – it was ejected from the camera by an electric motor powered by a battery in the eight-shot film pack. You simply watched as the black surface changed into a colour print before your eyes.

As digital photography emerged, the need for a way to preview images reduced, and Polaroid stopped making peel-apart film, and eventually discontinued the single-sheet cameras and film. The latter have been revived by the Impossible Project – and Fuji make a neat little system for wallet-sized images called Instax.

And – at a slight tangent – I remember the day that I rushed from dress rehearsals of a school play to the physics lab darkroom to process and print my film in time to pin damp prints up in the corridor for parents to see on their way into the opening night performance. It was an experience – but possibly not one I’m desperate to repeat fifty years on!

And along the way, I acquired a Polaroid camera from the late Fifties that is possibly the most photogenic prop I own. I’m not the only person to have one and use it this way – but perhaps it’s less appropriate for glamour images than the intriguingly-named Polaroid Swinger: was that intended as homage to Swinging London – or was it for pictures at laid-back and liberated parties that people didn’t want to have developed at Boots?


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nellacphoto Avatar
4 Jul 2020 9:28AM
Many years ago I used to collect old cameras ... all sorts, but loved the wood and brass ones
In 1966 I was given a Polaroid Swinger (not sure they'd get away with that name nowadays)
I sold off most of my collection some years back
But not the Polaroid ...

According to my Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 1985-1986 edition, the value for the Swinger was quoted as:

"$5 per truckload, delivered"

Colin Grin
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
4 Jul 2020 9:36AM
Yup. People kept them. A memento, maybe?
pablophotographer Avatar
pablophotographer 12 2.2k 450
4 Jul 2020 11:00AM
I thought it was Edwin Land's daughter question that sparked the need for the creation of interest, but I am not sure as I wasn't there at tge time.

Polaroids...are the celebration of the momentum. I disliked the fact that their picture size was small and the colours did not seem to hold on well in time. But I recognise they were a cult, lol. Not one that you can put in your pocket like the 110 film cameras or the 126 film cameras. But then you may had no pockets. But surely there was privacy! And I think the Swinger was built for that reason. On the contrary, in the publicity craze of the 21st century, the circulation of the image favours the use of digital, that's why cell phones are used as cameras too. The pictures gain exponential exposure. "Haris Pilton we all know what you did last night".

chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
4 Jul 2020 12:39PM
I chimp all the time, I try so hard not to but I just can't resist.
Polaroids were great when they first came out, such an almost cult following that faded very quickly, so did the images.... and was quite expensive.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
5 Jul 2020 9:57AM
You may be right about the daughter thing, Pablo: thank you.

You are definitely right about the small size!

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