Sunny days are rare around here this time of year. But on clear winter mornings when the sun is low in the sky, light pours into the living room for a couple of hours. Bertie’s lit up here by a slice of sunlight. He likes to sit on the back of the sofa, keeping lookout through the window. It’s not that he’s some fierce guard dog; he is, after all, a spaniel. It’s more that he’s watching for the next person to come and give him the love and attention he knows he deserves.
Bertie at 8 months / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
It’s not strictly true to say the SX-70 Sonar gives you no exposure information; a red light comes on in the viewfinder if there’s not enough light for a hand-held shot. Polaroid called this the ‘Use Flash Or Tripod Indicator’, but in terms of guidance, that’s your lot. All you know is you’re getting an aperture between f/8 and f/74, and a shutter speed anywhere from 1/180 to 14 seconds. I imagine the metering is a simple centre-weighted or average setup, but who knows?
As Watson sat in a small patch of sunlight, I had no idea if this shot would work, and I even forgot to look for the red light. At over two quid a pop, I really should be more careful. But hey, sometimes I have a good feeling and like to go with my hunch. Like that time I put £50 on Hilary to win. Or when I convinced everyone I knew to buy a hoverboard, just before the UK Government banned them on both roads and pavements. Yeah, so sue me.
Watson The Cat / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
I live in Chertsey. It’s an early medieval town that’s mentioned in the Domesday Book and owes its existence to the Abbey which dominated the village in the Middle Ages.
There were 130 and 64 men killed from my little town in the first and second world wars. Quite a loss. This memorial was unveiled in 1921.
Do you remember when NASA released the face on Mars photo? Was it proof of an ancient civilisation on the red planet? Or just a simple case of Pareidolia? Well, step aside NASA. It wasn’t until I got home and took the developed photo out of my pocket that I took proper notice of the street light. The next day I went back, just to take another look. Nothing there. Cue X-Files music….
Chertsey War Memorial / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
She asked me if I had any regrets. I told her I was really sorry I hadn’t shot more Kodachrome.
A few days later, pondering the look on her face, I realised that might not have been the answer she was looking for.
But as film photographers, regrets and disappointments are what we’ve come to expect. As well as Kodachrome, I really wish I’d shot a load more of Fuji’s Black & White pack film before it bit the dust in 2014. Kodak’s Panatomic X is another one, although that’s mainly because it sounds like something out of a 1950s sci-fi film. And not hiring someone to follow me round and document my entire life in wonderfully wobbly Super 8 was clearly a mistake.
The good news is that these days film photography is once again in the ascendancy. New emulsions are emerging and old ones resurrected. But the first such disappointment for me personally was when Polaroid stopped making instant film in 2008.
Just because my SX-70 lay dormant for over a decade, doesn’t mean I stopped buying Polaroid books.
Back In An Instant
Most people know the story by now. At its peak in the mid-70s, an estimated one billion Polaroids were being shot each year. Yet fast forward two decades and the instant photography market was being devastated by digital. By 2008 Polaroid had called time and stopped making film for its cameras.
Enter The Impossible Project. They bought the production machinery from Polaroid for $3 million and leased part of the former Polaroid plant in Holland. But with no raw materials and suppliers, they effectively had to reinvent the film from scratch.
I’d been a Polaroid shooter for many years and I remember being excited that I might be able to continue. But it soon became clear that the price was prohibitive, and the early iterations of the film were extremely flakey. My camera was relegated to the back of the cupboard, where it would spend the next ten plus years.
Back To The Future
This year I thought it might be time to take another look. I’d heard the film was much improved. The price is still a bit eye-watering though; £17 per pack, and where the old Polaroid had ten shots per pack, now you only get 8. That’s about two quid a pop. Ouch. Whatever, let’s go crazy, I thought. But would my camera still be working?
The Impossible Project has now rebranded to Polaroid Originals
Polaroid SX-70 Sonar
The original SX-70 is a work of genius. A manual focus SLR that produces instant film and folds flat. At some point Polaroid thought that the autofocus malarky other manufacturers were putting in their cameras might catch on. Thus the Polaroid SX-70 Sonar was born.
It’s clear the bug-eyed autofocus component on top has just been grafted on to a standard SX-70. This has the disadvantage of making the folded camera an inch or so longer. But the autofocus itself is super-snappy, and the viewfinder large and bright. I’m assuming the focus works by chucking out sound waves until it hits something and measures the distance, although anyone who’s not a scientific moron may correct me on this. One thing I quickly realised was that if you attempt to shoot through a window the camera will focus on the glass. Fortunately, there’s a manual focus option.
I gave the rollers on the camera a quick clean and pushed in the film cartridge. Out came the dark slide with that familiar Polaroid whirrrr – a good sign.
Like the original film, the battery is in the film pack rather than the camera. But unlike the original which had an ISO of 100, the new film is ISO 160. As there’s no direct way to adjust the ISO on the camera, I thought I’d have to use the lighter/ darker wheel to compensate. But no. As you’ll see, the exposures are spot on. However, you’re going to need a lot of light to get sharp hand-held shots as the maximum aperture is f/8. Shutters speeds range from 1/75 to ten seconds.
Each shot takes up to about 15 minutes to fully develop, and it really needs to do this out of direct light to stop it being washed out. I have a small tin that I immediately pop the photo in.
So here we have it, my first pack of polaroids in over ten years. One thing’s for sure; there will be more.
All photos Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
Bertie at 11 weeks old, in a rare moment of stillness
A picnic in the park with my friend Delphine
Rosie and friend in amongst the dunes at West Wittering Beach
Coco dreaming of a future where she won’t get continually mugged by a puppy
‘Yes I know I’m cute, but try to take the ball and I’ll lick you to death’
Abney Park Cemetery, London
Nikolay, Dmitry & Sergey are some of the guys I’ve been working with in Baku. Taken in the airport car park. Oh, the glamour.