For well over a year I held on to a box of very expired Polaroid Type 59 film. I found it at a sale benefiting a local non-profit darkroom and managed to snag it for a measly five dollars. It was easily about fifteen years expired and there was no guarantee it would even work. For a few bucks it was worth taking the chance.
Knowing full well this would be the last box of true Polaroid film I would ever have the chance to purchase I was intimidated to actually use it. I felt like I had to save it for some kind of special occasion. Leave it to Olivia Odd to convince me there is no time like the present.
On a chilly winter evening I dusted off my old Crown Graphic (a camera I sadly neglect a bit too often) and dug out my 4×5 Polaroid back. Armed with two glasses of wine, one hot light, and a blank wall we decided to get to work.
When it comes to photography there is always an x-factor to contend with. Sometimes it is the location that is less than ideal, or perhaps the light that isn’t cooperating. On occasion it is maybe a model who decided to be a diva that day and refuses take direction well. On this particular day it was none of those things. We were shooting in the comfort of my apartment, I had the ability to do whatever I wanted with my hot lights, and Olivia as always was the perfect subject. No, the x-factor was the medium itself. There was just no way to predict what the film would do. No way to guarantee the long expired Polaroid chemistry would do anything at all resulting in an image worth looking at.
Olivia put herself in a pose while I struggled with the camera. It had been a while since I worked with a large format camera and even longer since I had fiddled with the Polaroid back. “Hold still…” I pleaded with her. “Just keep holding still.” Open the lens. Compose in the ground glass. Close the lens. Pull the backing paper. Set the f/stop. Set the shutter speed. Click the shutter. Push the paper back in. Pull the film through the rollers. So many extra steps to make an image I had nearly forgotten.
We waited a few minutes to peel apart the film, sipping wine and figuring out the next pose. The smell was terrible when I removed the image from the chemical pod and when I laid the print on the hardwood floor we both inspected it. “It’s ok…” said Olivia. “We can do better.”
Olivia diligently took up another pose by the wall and I took my position behind the camera. Open the lens. Compose in the ground glass. Close the lens. Pull the backing paper. Set the f/stop. Set the shutter speed. Click the shutter. Push the paper back in. Pull the film through the rollers. We repeated the process again and again until the box of film was empty, each time with a new pose but keeping the position of the light and the camera the same.
By the end of the shoot we had a small treasure trove of Polaroid prints laid out on the floor. One clearly stood out from the rest. The perfect little print with the perfect light and the perfect pose and all the right little chemical smears in all the right places. Olivia finished off her glass of wine and extended her hand, sliding the best print away from the rest along the floor. “This one is the keeper” she said. I couldn’t help but agree.