The finest Polaroid photograph I’ve ever seen came from a photo booth.
On this spring day in 1985, the year my friends John and Jim and I all graduated high school, we were out being silly together and came upon photo booths at a mall. One was a traditional four-photo-strip booth, but the other promised Polaroid prints. I’d never seen a Polaroid photo booth before, and I’ve never seen one since. We piled in, I fed it a buck, and it took this big, beautiful photograph. (I’m on the bottom with the cheesy grin.)
Check out that sharpness! Dig those great colors! And those colors lasted — I scanned this 32-year-old print only recently.
If only I could get this kind of color and sharpness from my integral-print Polaroid cameras. I’ve shot several, including the vaunted original SX-70, and I’ve been dramatically unimpressed with the prints all of them created. How did this photo booth do such solid work?
But my disappointment with Polaroid photography isn’t really the point. I really want to tell you about a blog that features photobooth photographs.
Katherine has loved photo booths since she was a girl in the 1970s. She steps into them whenever she finds them — a rarer and rarer occurrence these days. And she collects forgotten photos from booths. And she shares them all on her blog, Photobooth Journal.
A rerun, from 2008 and 2012, as this Christmas nears. Now with new photos.
My grandparents always owned the latest Polaroid cameras, and they passed on that tradition in 1977 when they bought my brother and me Polaroid Super Shooter cameras for Christmas.
When I unwrapped the gift, I remember thinking how cool the box was. I liked the box so much that I kept my camera in it for the almost 30 years I owned it. Not long ago I learned that the box, like all Polaroid packaging of the day, was designed by Paul Giambarba, a top designer who was a pioneer of clean, strong brand identity.
I remember how easy it was to spot Polaroid film on the drug store shelf because it had the same rainbow-stripes design elements as the camera’s box. Film and developing for my garage-sale Brownie cost about half what a pack of Polaroid film cost, but the colorful Polaroid boxes on the shelf always tempted me. I often decided that next time I bought film, I would save my allowance for the whole month it took to afford a pack of Polaroid.
My brother also got a guitar that Christmas morning. My new camera came with a pack of film, so I loaded it and shot this photo of him on his first day with his guitar. He played this guitar for 20 years — he looked strange as an adult playing a kid-sized guitar!
20 Christmas Days later, when my older son was not yet a full year old, my wife gave my brother her old guitar. Our boy, drawn to the music, wouldn’t leave his uncle’s side as he played that evening. Steadying himself on his uncle’s knee, he looked up with wide amazement in his eyes.
May this holiday bring you the gift of excellent memories to share with your loved ones down the road.
At last, election day. More than anything, I feel relief that the campaigns are ending. However it turns out, it won’t be a washout.
Normally I’d tell you to get out there and cast your vote, even if it’s for the candidate I don’t like. Am I wrong somehow this year not to want to say that, to ask you to just stay home if you’re not voting for my candidate? Because the other choice is too frightening to contemplate?
What’s even sadder is how, given that I’m not revealing my choice, you can read that last sentence to apply to whichever candidate you like.
The last instant pack film is dead. Fujifilm has discontinued FP-100C, a color film.
I’m sure this is old news to some of you, as Fujifilm announced this at the end of February. Prices immediately jumped on remaining inventory. I bought three packs before prices shot into the stratosphere.
I’ve shot Polaroid packfilm cameras off and on since the 1970s, when my grandparents bought me one new for Christmas. I was charmed that I could get a print in 60 seconds, but wasn’t impressed with the the prints themselves. The colors were weird, and worse, they darkened with time.
And both films yield great sharpness when used in a camera with a capable lens. Photographers who put instant backs on their medium-format cameras got stunning results. My old folding Polaroid Automatic 250, with its decent lens, returned solid results. It was such a pain to use, though, that I gave it away and bought a rigid-bodied Colorpack II to replace it. I loaded one of my last packs of FP-100C into the Colorpack II recently and took it out to shoot spring color. I started with my freshly bloomed daffodils.
Up close on a bright day, the Colorpack II even creates a little bokeh. It’s not great bokeh, but that this lumbering brute of a camera does it at all pleases me greatly. The film does lose detail in the highlights, though, as you can see where the sun hits the top of this fire plug.
I took the Colorpack over to Holliday Park one afternoon. The Ruins, a huge art installation on the grounds, is being renovated and somewhat reworked. This is where they’re washing out concrete.
The Colorpack also came along with me to work one day. It’s conspicuous camera and it attracted a lot of attention around the office. Many of my young co-workers had never seen a packfilm camera before. This orange Vette in our parking lot doesn’t belong to any of them.
The callery pear trees have all finished blooming now, thank goodness, because the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.
One morning’s sun lit my living room well, so I tried an available-light shot of my bookcase. On the middle shelf are my Pentax ES II, Spotmatic SP, and H3; and my Yashica-D and Yashica-12. My Canonet QL17 G-III is hiding on the top shelf. The camera and film don’t give much shadow detail. I couldn’t even bring any out in Photoshop. Sharpness is off, too. If I had to guess, the camera probably went wide open (f/9.2) for this shot, and that’s when the lens is probably at its softest.
Finally, on an overcast day I finished the pack by shooting my house. I think this print’s flat colors show well that FP-100C is born for a sunny day.
I’m going to miss the Fuji pack films terribly. I shot two or three packs a year and always really loved the experience and the results. I know I can always buy (crazy expensive) Impossible films for my Polaroid SX-70, but the hard reality is that image quality just isn’t very good. The pack films and associated cameras truly were the pinnacle of instant photography. It’s a real shame that their era is ending. Yet it’s remarkable that their era lasted as long as it did.
Spring and summer pass right by without me ever thinking about instant photography. But come autumn, I start dreaming of Polaroids. I don’t get it, but I go with it.
I’m also on a jag to shoot up the expired film chilling in my fridge. That film wasn’t expired when I bought it — I’ve just been slow to shoot it. It’s in the fridge; it’s fine. But some of that film are last rolls of stuff you can’t buy anymore, such as Kodak Plus-X, Arista Premium 400, and my last pack of Fujifilm FP-3000B instant pack film. Can you see where this is going?
I had an idea for a photo essay. I loaded that FP-3000B into my Polaroid Colorpack II and started shooting. A couple shots in, I realized my photo-essay idea was terrible and that I wasn’t getting very good exposures. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. So I just shot the rest of the pack around the yard, enjoying my camera and the last of this film.
I have a one-car garage. During the warm months, it’s full of bicycles and lawn-care gear, and I park my car in the driveway.
I inevitably get lazy about storing things, and a bunch of junk accumulates on the garage floor. So one of of my late-autumn rituals is to put the bikes and yard gear in the shed and to properly store or pitch the accumulated junk so I can park my car in the garage during the cold months. Here’s this year’s mess.
This was a year of home projects. I hired many of them out, first and foremost the removal of my 21 dead ash trees. But I also had my windows and shutters scraped, reglazed, recaulked, and repainted. I rolled up my sleeves, too: I did a lot of landscaping in the wake of the tree removal, and I also repainted my front door. The previous owner had slapped a careless coat of white paint onto what had been a finished wood door, and it always looked pretty bad. I stripped all the old finishes off and painted the door in a copper color, which harmonizes with browns and oranges in my house’s bricks. In the spring, I’ll have that old aluminum storm door replaced with one of those great white vinyl doors with a rollaway screen.
One of my landscaping projects was to finally do something about the dead patch right behind my house. A vast patch of English ivy lay here when I moved in. It was a great ground cover, but it was also laced with poison ivy. There was no way to kill the poison ivy without also killing the English ivy — and it took years to do it, as both are hardy and persistent. But I succeeded, and for the past couple years I’ve had a big patch of dirt back here. The soil eroded, and I ended up with a negative grade — ground sloping toward the house, which risks water getting into the foundation. So I bought a ton of topsoil and got a bunch of help. We spread the dirt to create a positive grade, and then we planted nine boxwood bushes and spread some mulch to help keep that soil from eroding. I had all these big rocks in another spot in the back yard from some landscaping a former owner did, landscaping superseded by a later owner. I moved those rocks here to create a border.
With all of this work around the house and yard this year, it’s no wonder I managed just one road trip this year, my October trip down the National Road in eastern Indiana.
Just for fun, I wanted to see how the Colorpack II and the FP-3000B would handle a double exposure. Here are my bikes, ready to go into the shed.
If you want to see the rest of the shots from this pack, check out my Polaroid Colorpack II gallery. There you’ll also see some wonderful spring-flower shots I made with this camera on FP-100C color pack film. The Fujifilm pack films are just great. I daresay I like them better than the old, long-out-of-production Polaroid pack films.