Polaroid: The Complete Guide to Experimental Instant Photography by Rhiannon Adam. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500544600. 240pp. 840 illustrations. (A weird thing to say, especially about a book about photography, but it’s noted on the title page, so there.)
Gene: This is not the kind of book I read cover to cover, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be that kind of book.
Sarah: I’ve got to start bringing more cookbooks. I don’t “read” them, so I don’t think of them as being “books I have read.”
G: Bring any books you’ve loved. (Flips the book over for the reveal.)
G: You seen any experimental Polaroid photography? Where people draw on photos or scratch them and do crazy things?
G: I find analog photography compelling, just the idea that you can’t mess with it forever like digital. Somehow it feels like mistakes are more natural, more allowed, more a part of the process. And here’s my guidebook. There’s a How to Use This Book section, which I of course skipped. There’s a Quick Start Guide, which tells about types of cameras. And then there’s a Film Compatability Guide, because there’s a lot of old film stock out there and folks covet it. Will it fit your camera? Find out here. This is instant camera porn. There are so many more instant cameras in the world (and in this book) than I ever knew about.
S: Here’s a Party Time Instant Camera.
G: It goes right up to now, with some instant cameras funded via Kickstarter. I think the core of this is the Impossible Camera. There are lots of dated photos. It starts with old peel-apart cameras. It details which accessories are compatible with which cameras in case you’re buying on the secondary market.
S: This is the book to have next to you when you’re shopping eBay.
G: And it gives a user guide with troubleshooting tips for each style of camera covered. It explains how peel-apart film works — apparently you can do things with it you can’t do with other film types.
S: Double exposures and stuff?
G: Weirder. And apparently it depends on how you peel.
And there are tips on dealing with jams, and lots of buying advice for each type of camera.
These are boxes for drying and storing instant film. And then there are little bits and pieces. Large format 20 inch x 24 inch Polaroid cameras, which are a thing. A primer on how instant film works, the chemical processes. It is apparently one of the most complex chemical processes developed by man and available at the consumer level. And then different camera series. It gives ideas of what happens to film when things go wrong (but maybe that’s what you want?). Pictures on different kinds of film stock.
S: More buying advice.
G: Here’s my favorite, the Tasmanian Devil instant camera. And look, the outline of the photo makes it look like the camera was in the character’s mouth (which is what the camera looks like). There’s a Hello Kitty camera of course, but also a Jaegermeister branded camera and other oddities, Legoland, McDonald’s, other branded cameras.
S: Is that an ER medical camera?
G: It’s for emergency medicine, somehow. Then there’s a transparent camera.
Here’s a guide for swapping film. This whole thing is very practical.
It starts to hint at how to do different things. This camera has a stand people use to create instant film mosaics. It doesn’t quite explain how… Accessories continue, different types of cameras, and then it gets to the Impossible Camera Lab, which you can use with your smart phone to create instant photos. Ridiculous? Maybe. But cool.
These are the instant cameras that took photos on little stickers, like Japanese photo booths.
S: I remember those, yeah.
G: And this is the Impossible Camera that I talked about earlier, which you can control with your phone and of course it has an app. There’s a user guide, lots of info. There are machines that let you print from slides onto instant film.
That’s a little more than 1/3 of the book.
And then it gets into creative techniques, all the cool things you can do with the film, my favorite of which is lifting off the front part where the image is printed and using it as a transparency.
G: You can lay it across surfaces to create different effects.
So many more techniques. More troubleshooting. Lots of examples to inspire you or scare you off, including using expired film to get weird effects, because apparently no one knows what it’s going to do. And the great thing is they don’t care — it’s all part of the art.