Polaroid Fans Try Making New Film for Old Cameras

January 22, 2009, 7:03 AM  

Polaroid Fans Try Making New Film for Old Cameras

UPDATED 2:00 p.m.: Job details for Florian Kaps amended.

Before the advent of the digital camera, Polaroid reigned supreme when it came to photographs you could view in an instant. When the companyannounced last year that it would cease film production and abandon the technology that made it famous, the format seemed doomed to disappear.

Now a group of Polaroid enthusiasts are trying to create an entirely new instant film product, compatible with Polaroid cameras, that would keep the medium alive.

André Bosman, a former Polaroid employee, and Florian Kaps, a former manager of the Lomographic Society, an online community for film enthusiasts, solicited financing from private donors to purchase the remainder of the film manufacturing equipment from Polaroid. The two also leased the company’s factory in the Netherlands for their effort, cheekily called “The Impossible Project.”

Screenshot from The Impossible Project.

Mr. Bosman and Mr. Kaps recruited a team of 10 film technicians, chemists and engineers – most of whom were employed at Polaroid during its heyday – to collaborate on inventing a new instant film pack. Mr. Kaps estimates that the venture has enough money to finance production for one year, and his goal is to begin manufacturing by 2010.

Mr. Kaps declined to provide details on the costs of purchasing the Polaroid film equipment or the amount of financing his team has, except to say it was in the “low millions.”

His hope is that the efforts of the Impossible Project will jump-start a revival of analog photography, in the same way that vinyl record collectors have fueled a thriving subculture and continued production. “This is a last chance to keep another analog iconic medium from disappearing,” Mr. Kaps said. “This is a unique medium and it deserves a second chance.”

Given the affordability of digital cameras, the popularity of cellphones equipped with cameras and the ease of sharing digital photos through sites like Facebook and Flickr, it might seem difficult to comprehend why anyone would want to dabble in a medium that can be clunky and expensive. (A pack of instant film for a vintage Polaroid camera like the SX-70 can run as high as $100 on eBay.) But for many analog film enthusiasts, the spectrum of color variations and the general unpredictability of the format are a large part of the appeal and the aesthetic of the product.

The tricky part of Mr. Kaps’s campaign will be concocting a new instant film recipe that works in the old cameras. Most of the materials and chemical components used in Polaroid’s instant film packs are out of production and no longer available. It’s also likely that any solution devised by Mr. Kaps’s team of experts won’t be cheap on the consumer end, either.

For Mr. Kaps, it’s a shot in the dark worth taking. “There is no chance we can reproduce the original instant film,” he said. “But we think there is a chance to produce a new kind of film and preserve this medium.”

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