Where Do I Go From Here?

This picture is from a trip I took about two weeks ago to Hong Kong.  I lugged a backpack around (with the husband’s help) containing a field camera, a lens, Polaroid back, Readyload back, meter, dark cloth, loupe, a tripod, and of course film and Polaroid.  I wanted to make the effort to try to shoot 4×5 on a trip, just walking around taking in a new place.  It wasn’t that easy or quick, but I gave it a whirl and took a few pictures I liked.

I know I’m not the first person to speak on this topic, but with the recent announcement by Polaroid to cease production of all large format polaroid I feel I need to share my opinion.  I am predominantly a large format (4×5) shooter.  I’d say about 80-90% of my work in the past five years has been 4×5.  I shoot almost all of my portraits that way, and I recently acquired a Wista field camera in efforts to take the same approach with my personal work.  I have feared that this day would come, and still worry that Kodak will soon follow Polaroid’s lead and stop manufacturing large format film.

I bet there is a reason why Polaroid has made this decision, and that reason is that they are not making enough profit on the sales of their large format materials.  Agreed, it’s not the quickest and/or easiest format to shoot, and the prices have risen quite a bit in the last 10 years or so.  It’s now around $85 for a box of my beloved Polaroid Type 59 (now discontinued), but who cares??  People who love the format will continue to pay for it, and I wish we could make the decision ourselves – whether or not we want to shell out the money – rather than have it made for us.  

In the past year or so (yes, I’m behind), I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that eventually I will have to succumb to technology.  I have in every other aspect of my life.  I have a bluetooth connection in my hybrid car.  I enjoy the Blackberry very much.  I devised a nerdy filing system for all of my negatives and contact sheets in FileMaker and am proud to show it off every time someone comes over.  I just don’t want to have to give up my 4×5.  The Polaroid Type 59 has been instrumental, to say the least, in developing my personal aesthetic.  The palette is so beautiful – a little pastel, a little cyan, a little perfect.  Now I have three boxes in my fridge that I will be guarding with my life, and I’m on the hunt for however many more I can get my hands on.

I wonder where this and other recent developments will take photographers and photography.  There are SO MANY photographers these days, and everyone shoots 5Ds and H3s.  The choice of camera is narrowing, or at least it’s becoming more and more difficult to continue on the path of shooting film.   What is going to separate us from each other, other than this guy shoots still life, and this girl shoots portraits, etc.?  What will determine personal style?  I understand lighting (or the absence of) plays a large role, but I am not convinced that alone is enough personal expression for my photography.  I guess we’ll have to see where it takes me and my fellow view camera buddies.

5 comments to Where Do I Go From Here?

  • nina

    I am right there with you. Especially when it comes to personal/art photography. I am by no means anti-technology – I love ‘the’ photoshop ;) . I like the workflow of a digital c-print.
    But it would be great if the medium would stay rich in processes & alternatives and I could continue to mix analog and digital. For me that works best.
    I think it is time that we all start writing love letters to Kodak, Ilford & Fuji!
    Oh and hurray on the blog – love it already.

  • mariamotorina

    Thanks for blogging about this Emily! I found your post through Nina’s blog and have to agree with her comment.

    A love of the photographic process is what drew me to make fine art photographs. Whether I’m working with alternative processes or making c-prints (digital or conventional) – there is a magic to photography. Digital capture simply does not have that quality for me. So where will I be left when film goes the way of the dodo bird?

    Like Nina, I’m no technophobe and have incorporated aspects of technology into my work. I’ve made digital c-prints and pigment prints. I use printers to make large negatives for alternative process contact printing. But, like you, I love my 4X5 camera (I also love my medium format cameras!) and I’m fairly certain that if film was no longer manufactured it would drastically alter my approach to making fine art photography. In other words, I’d probably find another form of artistic expression.

  • Htothe...

    Werd D. O. G. You are right on point. I feel your pain. That is why I kind of moved a way from taking pictures all together. It is an interesting time for us who were the last to know the world with out digital cameras. Nothing feels authentic anymore. I barely even print pix I would put in family albums or scrapbooks anymore. Where do we go from here? I’ll follow you.

  • Anonymous

    It is very sad for me as I am a college student at a fine arts based school. We only shoot film, and I am with you on the film vs. digital aesthetics factor. Once I picked up a Hasselblad my photography changed forever. My work heavily relies on polaroids as my medium much less as a backup for exposure. Where is my generation of fine art photographers going to turn?

  • Terence Patrick

    Would LOVE to know more about your FileMaker database system for contact sheets and negatives!