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Ferns Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film

Ferns Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film. Polaroid is quite a remarkable photographic medium. Quite apart from the instantaneous imaging it could provide, the prints themselves are quite unique in their characteristics. Polaroid introduced the Type 55 P/N  film back in 1961. It produces both a positive print as well as a black and white negative which could be enlarged.

This image was made in my parents’ home garden one summer. I had just  purchased a Polaroid 545 film back for my wooden field camera and I was eager to try out some 4×5 Polaroid  film. My only previous experience of 4×5 sheet Polaroid was as a student at Curtin University in the 80s doing a photography unit elective as part of my science degree. Watching 4×5 polaroid develop in just a few seconds was magical stuff, was also expensive and was why the tutor used it sparingly.

Alas, Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film is no longer made. It was rated around 50 ISO on the box which, in my eagerness,  is what I exposed the image above at. Great for a well exposed print, big mistake for a negative if you want to print from it. In Ansel Adam’s Polaroid Land Photography, 1978, it states that there is more than one stop difference between the effective negative and positive print speeds. Their tests gave an effective print speed of 64 ISO and a negative speed of 20 ISO (page 288). This speed difference would in some way explain my difficulty in matching the polaroid print (in this instance) with an enlargement on fibre based from the polaroid negative. Indeed the polaroid negative is visually thin and would indicate underexposure.

Today I was printing from the Polaroid negative for the first time, using the Polaroid print as a reference. Try as I may, I could not achieve the same degree of tonal separation between the fern edges and the dark shadows. Yet the Polaroid print itself captures it beautifully. I have not given up though, I might have another try in the darkroom after a bit of thinking about it.

The Impossible Project ( are still manufacturing instant films in some formats.

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polaroid type 55 positive negative film

Polaroid Type 55 Pos Neg Deep River walpole

Polaroid type 55 positive negative film. Some of my final images made during a hiking trip in November made on this beautiful 4×5 film which was well past its expiry date by a few years and needed using. The image was processed after I returned from my trip, I seldom developed out the polaroid in the field, rather I used it as a conventional film. I will miss it.

Last weekend I ran a 2 day workshop covering an introduction to 4×5 on the first day, then developing and printing those images in a darkroom on the second day. For some it was the first time they had been inside a darkroom, seen their films developed and enlarged their own photographs and watched them develop in the tray.  I suspect that the second day, the darkroom day, is possibly the highlight for most who attend. The first day we are out in the field, learning how to operate the camera in the morning and photographing for the remainder of the day. But the second day brings the whole experience of working with a new format and film,  full circle.  Yesterday’s photographic ideas and compositions are brought into existence as real silver gelatin prints through the application of standard darkroom procedures. And with that experience comes a new found knowledge about the simple, tangible, controls possible over the film and paper mediums. That experience is something that can be taken with them and applied throughout their photography.

Photography has always been on the cutting edge of technology, and I still marvel at beautiful tonal range of these negatives and the sophisticated technology that underlies its apparent simplicity. Technology is a topic that generally surfaces in one form or another at workshops as comparisons are made between film and digital approaches. One common theme that seems to emerge, is that whilst there will always be new photographic products and technologies enabling faster outcomes and greater volumes, it is not always the speed at which you arrive at a photographic point, but the journey in getting there, because it is in undertaking that journey that you begin to understand. Once you understand this you have the skills to make your own interpretation.

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My Last Polaroid Type 55 PN

A few days ago I was camping on the south coast, hiking and photographing with my 4×5 field camera. In my back pack I had my few last remaining sheets of Polaroid Type 55 PN film and my 4×5 Polaroid film holder.

Years ago, Polaroid Australia kindly donated some Polaroid Type 55 PN to me for a workshop, and these sheets were left over. Polaroid is such a wonderful film, I could never bring myself to use it instantly unless I was trying to demonstrate something in a group or workshop, because I would lose the negative.

Out in the field, for my own images,  I always treated my Polaroid Type 55 as ‘regular’ film, exposing it and then processing it later in the darkroom when I returned from a trip. In this way I could safely save the negative from which I would make an enlarged print.  The Polaroid prints, although beautiful,  were always secondary, and tended to be too light as I had deliberately over exposed the negative.

With an expiry date of March 2006, saving the film, which I had kept refrigerated,  seemed increasingly problematic. I need not have worried, all the images processed perfectly in my Polaroid 4×5 back.

This image is of the remains of a very old and fallen banksia near a campsite clearing on the south coast. This old trunk just seemed to have its own quiet glow in the gathering dusk. Exposure was around 4.5 minutes at f16 with a 300mm Nikkor, 20 seconds development at 20 degrees C.

Some amazing images have been made with Polaroid of the years, indeed the Polaroid Collection contains many images by world renowned photographers. The collection was auctioned off in 2010, an action that was precipitated by Polaroid’s bankruptcy. You can read more about this on John Sexton’s April 2010 newsletter.

Now what to do with a 4×5 Polaroid film holder? Ironically,  it fits snuggly into a Fuji Quickload film box for storage, another item which is nolonger produced!

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Groundhogs Day

Jarrah blossom and seed pods, Western Australia

Jarrah tree blossoms Urban Landscape Perth Polaroid Type 55.  I often rise early before sunrise. I like to think its because I am a dedicated landscape photographer, but truth is this: the cat has me trained so well to let her out at that time in the morning it has become a habit. When I am at home the morning starts with a brewed cup of coffee. As the predawn light softly filters through the kitchen window I survey the sky for a whisp of cloud or any other clues as to what the day is bringing. At this time of year, Perth summer weather can be very predictable, just like in Groundhogs Day. Today was no different, the cloudless grey sky was slowly turning blue and a gentle but persistent easterly breeze was coming off the scarp, just like yesterday.

I went into the backyard and stood under the jarrah and marri trees with my cup of coffee. Above me in the trees I could hear the industrious sound of insects buzzing. Looking up, the jarrah tree was heavy with tiny yellow blossoms, which stood out in the soft predawn light. With the extent of its flowering I wondered why I had not noticed earlier? During the day when the sun is blazing in the cloudless summers skies, these soft yellow flowers become almost invisible, lost amongst the bright light and glare.

I got out the 4×5, and focused in tight on the tiny flowers and a cluster of seed pods. The magnification was life size on the film and with every breath of wind the pods and flowers jumped in and out of my ground glass viewing frame. Working at this magnification depth of focus is very shallow and I used some back tilt on the camera to help bring the foreground seed pods into the plane of focus. For just a moment the breeze stopped. In a rush I placed a single sheet of Polaroid Type 55 PN film into the camera back, set the shutter for 1/2 second at f8. Both these settings were a compromise to sharpness, but it was all I could get. To make matters worse I could hear the leaves in the tops of the trees rustle in the breeze as I pressed the cable release to make the exposure.

I like to process my Polaroid in the darkroom, preserving the negative and clearing it in sodium sulphite solution whilst in complete darkness. Most my Polaroid prints are overexposed as my aim is to obtain the negative, which I expose at the slower 32ISO rather than the recommended print speed of 50ISO.

The first rays of sunlight began hitting the blossoms, the sky turning a bright pale blue. It was going to be a fine summer’s day in Perth. What remained of my coffee had gone cold, but at least I had awakened my senses as to what was happening in my own backyard and saw something anew. Maybe it wasn’t going to be another Groundhogs day after all?

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Dune Cabbage Polaroid PN Type 55 Cape Leeuwin Augusta 4×5 Sheet Film

Dune Cabbage (Arctotheca populifolia)

Even in this age of digital cameras, there is still something truly amazing about  Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. Rated at about 32ISO (rather than the recommended 50ISO), this film is capable of recording superb detail and tonalities. With Polaroid Type 55 4×5 film, each exposure yielded a positive 4×5 polaroid print and a 4×5 negative that could be used in an enlarger for printing. My approach to using this film has always been to treat it like regular film, compose the image and expose carefully, then process the film when I get home. Using the Polaroid back I would do this processing in my darkroom, keeping any light exposure of the negative to a minimum until the negative had safely cleared in a sulphite solution. Then I would complete the processing with a wash period, photoflo immersion then dry just like a regular film. You now have a 4×5 contact print in one hand and a perfectly usable 4×5 negative in the other, what a bargain! This image of the Dune Cabbage is an enlargement from Polaroid PN 55 made on Forte graded paper. This Dune Cabbage (Arctotheca populifolia) was photographed near Cape Leeuwin, Augusta in Australia’s south west, although this successful dune coloniser is widespread around coastal regions, it originated from South Africa. Apparently the leaves can be peeled and eaten as salad or lightly steamed. Here’s one I prepared earlier.