Saturday, November 23, 2019

Reflective Objects: My Collection, or Hoarding as Art!

This fall I have been fortunate to be included in a show at the Kennedy Art Center in Athens, Ohio. The show, Reflective Objects: Collectors and Their Collections, was an opportunity for me to showcase my obsession for Polaroid cameras! 

The museum preparator and everything guy, Jeff Carr, made all of the pedestals and cases you see, as well as dress forms and any other thing to support the collections. He did an amazing job and added some much-needed color to my early Polaroid collection!

I wrote a bit of information to go along with the show, and here it is: 

When I think of instant cameras, I am always reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's three laws: 1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. 2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. 3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This followed by the famous quote of Dr. Land himself: Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.

My camera collection can be separated into roughly three categories: Early land cameras, scientific and professional cameras, and the later polaroid cameras: pop culture/ cameras as lifestyle statements. I write extensively about my camera collection in my blog: have drawn from a blog entry per category as a way of explaining my sickness.

Early land cameras:

It began with an innocent inquiry by a 3-year-old girl in 1943. While Doctor Land was snapping pictures on the beach in Santa Fe, his daughter asked: “Daddy, why can't I see the picture now?” He pondered that question the rest of the day and had a workable answer that would drive his company for the next half-century.

Though instant Polaroid roll film is one of the few types of instant film you cannot get any more, the cameras form an essential part of my collection. The 95 was the first fully instant camera they rolled out in 1947. The first pictures came out in a sepia tone and were prone to fading. This was solved by immediately painting on a sticky stop goo called the print coater. One would have to wave it back and forth to dry the coater. This is where the famous “shake it like a Polaroid” came from.

Originally the intention was to have other companies manufacture the cameras, but the cameras of the time were fairly inaccurate ( due to easy corrections that could be made in the darkroom). Obviously, with instant film no lab-based corrections could be made to the image. The cameras had to have very specific shutter times, so Polaroid started to manufacture their own cameras.

Polaroid got a reputation as a consumer point and shoot instant camera company in the eighties, but they were not always regarded that way. From the very beginning, Polaroid had the attention of professional photographers everywhere. Ansel Adams was a lifetime consultant to Dr. Land and a huge fan of Polaroid.

The earliest instant roll film cameras were very heavy- weighing in just above 5lbs! This was due to a tax break on “professional” cameras- the professional determination was based solely on weight! The 95 was a consumer designed product, but it was followed quickly by a string of professional-grade products including great fully manual lenses and shutters, the 110,110a, 110b, and 120. These cameras are still highly sought after by Polaroid fans. Today there is a small cottage industry that creates pack-film conversions of these cameras which then sell for around 700 to 1500 dollars.

Scientific and professional cameras:

Dr Land and Polaroid came up with a million ways to use instant photography, much of it in professional fields. From dentistry and forensics to passport photos, the ubiquity of instant photography ideas were endless. Not only were cameras constructed for very specific applications, but films were made with built-in grids, heightened UV sensitivity, and never before achieved film speeds (iso 20,000).

This part of my collection mostly falls into three categories: dental macro cameras, oscilloscope cameras, and passport cameras. I also have a couple stand-alone oddballs like the microscope camera. The film ranges from traditional pack-film to specialized Spectra film. Two are full SLR cameras. Others have preview windows built into the hood, and some use two lasers that form a cross on the subject when you are in the focal distance!

I am sure there are millions of these special-use cameras out there. If you get the chance- snag one. They are quite fun to shoot, and the looks you get are worth the low dollars they typically command!

Cameras as lifestyle statements:

When I started collecting the I-Zone cameras, I had to learn to accept my addiction. Hello, I am Aaron, and I am a camera collector. The reason for my acceptance is that these cameras don't take any kind of film that is available. Even the expired film I have found has not worked in them. They are officially for legacy only. They also may exist as a cautionary tale!

Dr. Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid, was very much against making cheap, mass consumer products. His idea was to allow everyone to have access to cameras and instant development, but never at the cost of creating a bubble gum and sugar cereal type product, and this is exactly what the I-Zones were. They were marketed to children and tweens, and they were a powerful short term market. They made them with bright colors, simple use, sticker backing, and convenient size. They were an early version of the facebook post. You snapped them, shared them, stuck them on your wall, and wrote on them. Dr. Land would have liked that part of the product, as he wanted shooting instant film to be an event. What he wouldn't have approved of is chasing the latest trend- the flash in the pan. He was about long term innovation.

Business wise, they were the hare, when Dr. Land preferred the tortoise. Not to say that he was slow, but he was steady. Dr. Land actually has the second most patents secured ever, with only Thomas Edison as his better. This “hare” shareholder and bottom-line mentality was eventually the death of Polaroid.

So here is what collecting has become to me. It is a legacy preserving action, the parts forming the whole as a unique art piece. The collection is about content- not just about surface. There is a deeper read. Obsolescence captures the movement of time, and often the color, design, shape, and purpose of the object capture the spirit of the era. Oh, yeah- it is fun, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Big Shot- big time, or swapping out that anemic development timer.

I tend toward the experimental with photography, but one area that I am a bit of a purist on is shooting pack film with my Polaroid Big Shot. I let the Magicube do its magic. I do the Polaroid shuffle to focus the camera (it is a fixed focus with a rangefinder to lock in focus). I do “no-frills” portraits of head and torso. I pinch straight down on the shutter lever all the way to the bottom of the motion. I even use the terrible development timer on the back of the camera. Until now!
About a third of my Polaroid camera collection is sitting pretty in an art museum in a collection show. Since I tried to represent important and interesting cameras, my Big Shot had to be a part of that display. I did not realize how much I would miss that collection until it was gone(and the show is 3 months long). This forced some change in my workflow. First, I built another manual pack film camera out of stuff I had lying around. I blogged about it here: . And second, I dug into my parts bin and put together/ cleaned up a Big Shot. You see, I take a Big Shot picture of everyone who comes into my art studio, and I could not bear to miss out on a whole season of pictures.
The camera worked well, but the terrible timer kept stalling! Though I love the Big Shot, I acknowledge that it wasn’t built of the best stuff. Most of the Big shots I encounter have broken shutter lever posts, missing t handles, chips on the body, out of true rangefinders, and of course, anemic development timers.
Looking at the outside and inside of the film door, a removal and replacement operation looked to be quite easy. Many things that look easy can be time-consuming and hard, but this is not one of them. I did the project in minutes and it was as easy as it looked.

Polaroid had a few standalone development timers that could be mounted to your camera strap(model 128) or screwed into your tripod socket(model 120). There have been others, but those are the ones that I have found to be fairly common. You can also find timers on old plastic pack film cameras, but I have no experience using them. I chose to use the oldest, a model 120 because the build quality is excellent and it can be calibrated from the back with a standard screwdriver.
The first step is to remove the existing timer. I just pried it up with a knife and it broke along the glue line. I then used a sharp knife to scrape away the excess pieces. When you are done with this step, you will have a hole too small for either timer. Do not try to widen the hole to fit the timer, as you will end up opening a hole clear through the back.

The timer will sit flush with the surface, covering the hole, but not sitting in the hole. I chose to use industrial-grade Velcro. It served the dual purpose of filling the hole and allowing for removal of the timer for calibration. I used strong Velcro because the adhesive side of it is super strong and will not fall off. Lesser Velcro will just eventually fall off. If you use the 120 timers, there are three tiny screws to remove on the back so you can get rid of the tripod screw plate.

Project done, workflow restored!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid 600SE CB-70 back update- Shooting on the cheap with i-Type film!

Versatility is important to me. I think that may stem from a past of scarcity. I live in Appalachia in the poorest county of Ohio, so that may play a part. Growing up Generation X, the first generation that could not count on getting a career, but rather stringing together jobs over a lifetime, could contribute to my values. Being an artist in a country that only celebrates millionaire artists may play a role in my feelings of lack.

But I like to think that my attitude comes from all of those campy post-apocalyptic 80s movies that the cold war brought us. Huddling in the bunker after the blast with my trusty Polaroid 600SE, I have to seek new and innovative means to shoot the varied and dwindling supply of a lost era. I will create adapters, backs, lenses, etc. to continue recording my passage through this life. I will use expired film, and process with coffee and vitamin c. I will combine various parts to create a working object. I will create hacks and shortcuts, some clever, many silly.

This is one of those hacks. Though I have created adapters that allow you to connect your CB-70 back to the Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid 600SE in both horizontal and vertical orientation ( ), this hack will work with all CB-70 film backs.

In a world of scarcity, Polaroid Originals provides the film for the 600 cameras, the SX-70 cameras, and i-Type cameras. If you have a fresh 600 film or fresh SX-70 film, you can process them through the CB-70 back. If you wish to use i-Type film or film with a dead battery, there is an easy and cheap fix to add to your camera bag that will allow you to process with your CB-70 back as well!

6-8 volts can drive your CB-70 motor. There just happens to be an electrical socket on the backside of your CB-70. It runs on dc, so a two cr123 battery holder with the batteries arranged in series( in a line with one positive touching the other negative) will work to supply all your power needs. You will have to find a power plug of the correct dimensions. An easy way to find one is to just take the back to a thrift store and try all of them out. Remember, it doesn’t matter the power of the brick or the polarity of the plug at this stage. You will be using the wire and the plug, not the transformer. The dimension of the exterior of the adapter I used is 5mm, with the inner diameter of 2.1- 2.5(sorry I cannot be more specific!).

Once you have found your power plug, wire the positive to the exterior of the plug and the negative to the interior of the plug. This is the opposite of most power plugs, so be careful not to do the industry standard. Now test it. Get an i-type cartridge with a couple of old shots in it, or tape over the power connector on an old expired cartridge with a couple of shots left. Remember to always tape over the power contacts on the bottom of old film cartridges if you intend to use the cr123s instead. The contacts, even if dead, can create a drain in the circuit. Plug it in, and quickly press the green eject button. If you don’t hear and see an ejected picture, you may have it miswired. If no film came out, quickly unplug it and check your connections.

Now attach the battery holder to your CB-70 any way you like. I am going to attack mine with velcro and toss the holder into my camera bag! You are now ready for the apocalypse!