I was eager to try out some Polaroid Film. I recently purchased an expensive Polaroid 545 film back and was waiting to test it.
The last time I had seen Polaroid 4×5 being used was at University in the late 1980s. As part of my degree I able to take the photography unit offered by the then Arts Faculty. A group of students stood in a circle around the photography tutor while he demonstrated the zone system. He used just two sheets of 4×5 Polaroid film. It was expensive stuff and rationed accordingly. But it was magical watching the instant print develop before
Polaroid as a learning tool
So where else is best to start my own Polaroid journey but in my own back yard? I made this image in my parents’ home garden. Ferns is a positive print from 4×5 Polaroid Film. Polaroid film is an excellent photographic learning tool.
Polaroid Type 55 P/N film is quite a remarkable photographic medium introduced around 1961. It produces both a positive print as well as a black and white negative which could be enlarged. Quite apart from the instantaneous imaging it could provide, the prints themselves are quite unique in their characteristics. Unfortunately, Polaroid Type 55 positive-negative film is no longer made.
Expose for the negative instead of the print?
50 ISO is the recommended film speed on the Type 55 box. In my eagerness, this is what I exposed the image above at. Great for a well-exposed Polaroid print. Not so great for a negative if you want to enlarge from it. In Ansel Adam’s Polaroid Land Photography, 1978, it states that there is more than one stop difference between speeds. The negative was one stop slower than the positive print. Ansel’s tests gave an effective print speed of 64 ISO and a negative speed of 20 ISO (page 288).
Indeed the polaroid negative of Ferns 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. These speed differences would in some way explain my difficulty in printing from this negative. Try as I may, I could not match the tonal separation between the fern edges and the dark shadows. Yet the Polaroid print captures it beautifully. Matching the polaroid print of Ferns with an enlargement made on fibre based paper is a challenge. I have not given up though, I might give it another try. Sometimes I have more success after a bit of thinking about it.
The Impossible Project is still manufacturing instant films in some formats.
4×5 Polaroid Type 55 Positive-Negative Film, Polaroid Back, 90mm lens, Wista field camera.