know your history: polaroid and the impossible

Today marks one week since The ImPossible Project’s first new film went on sale after the press event where the film was revealed to the world at their New York City space last Monday March 22nd 2010. Yet, it seems that in this short period of time there has already been a fair amount of discussion about the film with two main points; Look and Price. There have been people on forums online, and expressing these views in other means, about how they say they don’t like how the new film looks, mostly they seem to have been expecting the new film to be a near copy of traditional Polaroid 600 film, and saying they think the film is too expensive at the $21 introductory price with it moving to $22 later for the 8 shots per pack. Now for people who don’t like how the film looks and have expressed so in a civil manner, you can’t begrudge someone the right to their opinion, after all to each their own.

So chalking that up to a matter a differing tastes, I would like to address the people who have been a little more denigrating in their objections.

Context.....

I ask all of you to take a moment and forget about where Polaroid was right before they shuttered production, and to also ignore Fuji’s current offerings in instant film...and for pete’s sake don’t compare it to standard film formats. Just look at The ImPossible Project as a company in their own right for the moment. Now I can’t say for certain exactly how many people are employed by ImPossible, but I do know that there are only 2 here in the US, a Berlin store which employs a couple people, that they employ 20 people total in the factory in Enschede, and beyond that there are only a handful who take care of the business end of things outside of the people I’ve already mentioned. This doesn’t add up but to fewer than 50 people worldwide as far as I can tell.

Now we put this information into the context of history. It’s only fair to compare ImPossible with the next closest example, Polaroid in the 1940’s. Edwin Land first conceived of instant photography in 1943 while on vacation when his daughter asked “Why can’t I see them now?” in reference to the pictures he had just taken. It was February 21st 1947 when he first publicly demonstrated instant film in NYC in the form of an 8x10” peel apart Sepia tone image made from a positive roll and a negative roll. During that time Polaroid had several hundred employees working in Boston while they worked with the people at Eastman Kodak to help them develop the process for their film. It then wasn’t until November 26th 1948 that the first Polaroid camera (which weighed 5lbs) and film (which was a somewhat complex to load two-roll system) went on sale to the public. Also some perspective, the Model 95 camera cost $89.75, or $807.16 in today’s value, while the film was $1.75 for 8 exposures, or $15.74 today.

You should be able to spot many similarities from Polaroid at this time to ImPossible today, as well as places where ImPossible is at a disadvantage. Polaroid had already been a company for years having sustained themselves off military contracts beginning in 1941, so they had capital to start with, not going out and finding investors. Polaroid also had several times the workforce and concentrated in one location. Now even though the engineers with ImPossible had been working for Polaroid for years and generally knew what was needed material wise to make this film, the source of many of these materials went away when Polaroid shut down Film production since that source was Polaroid itself. So while they knew in principal what they needed for the film to work, they had to find new materials with which to do this. That’s like being a professional cake maker, having almost all the usual ingredients you use taken away from you, and then being told to make a cake that tastes like cake.

So where am I going with all of this? The ImPossible Project has effectively achieved a similar accomplishment to what Polaroid did in less time and with a fraction of the people. They were able to offer their film for a little less than ImPossible because the peel apart film is far simpler to make as well as having fewer materials(see picture above) and because Polaroid could displace costs with a camera while ImPossible’s only product is their film. As for comparing ImPossible’s Film costs to Polaroid before they shuttered? Again, Polaroid was a large corporation with other sources of revenue besides just the film, they also eventually made much larger quantities of it which means they could sell it for less, but this is also the reason they went under because they weren’t selling the quantities they were producing resulting in losses overall. Polaroid could have sustained a smaller production load, but would have had to raise prices because of per unit costs. As for shipping costs and times, ImPossible is still starting up so everything is coming from either the US or Europe, so things are still developing distribution wise. When Polaroid first went on sale they only had 56 cameras and they were only available in one store in Boston. So if these people were around back then, they’d probably be complaining about the 5lbs camera, or the complex loading of two rolls, or that the image isn’t color, or that the camera costs so much, or about availability, and just like some people are claiming the PX films are gimmicks, so were early critics of Polaroid and instant photography in general.

As for people who have complained as to the look of the film past personal taste...

Polaroid’s first film was also Sepia-toned and wasn’t 100% on stability and consistency. It took years for Polaroid to develop other processes. No one owes you another 600 style film. If it weren’t for The ImPossible Project, the mere possibility of it wouldn’t even exist, just read this Wired UK article. ImPossible is also releasing their color film later this summer, considering 600 was a color film, perhaps you should wait for it to come out before condemning the PX Silver Shade films for not being something they weren’t even trying to be. Personally I think it can produce some beautiful images and I’m not even someone who usually likes sepia tone. If you haven’t seen the results yet, look here in the Flickr Group. I think anyone who likes the aesthetic on a personal level will enjoy the film. Performance wise, clearly the film is capable of amazing results, so if you’re not seeing it, you can adjust accordingly. Tips for shooting it found here on ImPossible. Again, these are just the first films everyone, it’s just the beginning. So if you’re an instant fan, just wait for the kind of film you want, or politely give your input on what you’d like to see in a film. If you’re a true fan, and since these are the only guys around who can even make this kind of film, wouldn’t it behoove you to make nice with them?

In summary.....

Everyone just back their sense of entitlement up. I think in today’s film market, all we can ask of the film manufacturer’s is to be straight with us who are customers. So if you’re not even going to be buying the films in the first place, shut up. I can’t say I see any Film people in Canon and Nikon forums bad mouthing their new cameras for this reason or that reason, so what are non-instant film people doing criticizing an instant film? This reminds me of how Kodak has been very reassuring when it’s retired the Tri-X 320 and Kodachrome films about other offerings and how it’s added Ektar formats as well. Fuji however has apparently discontinued almost it’s entire C-41 line and other films but isn’t being straight forward about why or its plans going forward. The people I’ve talked to at ImPossible have been nothing but polite and very straight forward as far as their goals and plans for the films they plan to create. They have also been very descriptive on tips for shooting the film, and how to improve your results. The only people who have any right to be upset or indignant are ones who’ve spent money on film and either not gotten what’s promised or been lied to in some way, which so far as I can tell isn’t happening, the loudest critics seem to be people who haven’t seen it in person or shot any...some with no plans to buy any. Lastly I’d just like to add that it seems the film is selling quite well, and feedback from those who are shooting it are mostly positive(me included), probably at least in part for the fact that they are shooting new integral instant film again, something that would be 100% impossible if not for the people at The ImPossible Project, to whom I say thank you. -f

CORRECTION: Where I say “Fuji however has apparently discontinued almost it’s entire C-41 line” I need to specify that it pertains only to the professional C-41 films. That and apparently only in the US market so I’m being informed by people elsewhere. That and it should be “its” not “it’s” forgive my grammar. I didn’t mean to exaggerate or anything against Fuji by this past seemingly unclear PR in a reduction of films in contrast to ImPossible’s active PR and commitment to adding films. I have been an avid Fuji C-41 shooter for 2 years, this brought the criticism.