When Polaroid Corporation announced that it would stop selling analog instant film products in 2008, fans all over the world went into a paroxysm of grief. “The digital world is cold, colorless, devoid of a soul in comparison,” one wrote on the New York Times Web site.
Over the following three years, however, instant film has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. The Impossible Project bought Polaroid’s manufacturing equipment and has been creating film compatible with cameras once made by the company. Fujifilm’s Instax instant film products also have their own loyal fan base. (Cameras being marketed as Polaroid 300 in the US and UK are actually re-branded Fuji Instax Mini 7S’s.)
Anyone with access to a smart phone or online editing software can apply “vintage” effects and a white frame to digital photos, but enthusiasts say the appeal of instant film is that it represents photography pared down to its simplest elements.
“It is the most basic idea of how a photo is made,” says Jun Akaike, the director of Impossible Project Tokyo. “You can smell the chemicals in the pod and hold the film in your hand as it develops.”
After Polaroid stopped producing instant film products in 2008, its equipment was purchased by Austrian entrepreneur and The Impossible Project founder Florian Kaps. His new company faced a giant obstacle, however: the chemical components used in Polaroid’s instant film were no longer available and had to be reformulated from scratch. After working with technicians and engineers who had once been employed by Polaroid, The Impossible Project began releasing its own film in 2010.
At about NT$700 to NT$900 for a cartridge with 10 exposures, The Impossible Project’s products are much more expensive than instant film made by Fujifilm. Akaike says that the high price is due to the low quantities currently produced by The Impossible Project — in 2011, the company manufactured just 100,000 units of film.
Pricing isn’t the only issue that users have encountered. The Impossible Project’s current film lines, which include black-and-white and color film, are all extremely sensitive to light and must be covered as they develop, so photographers cannot experience the magic of watching an image slowly appear. Other problems have included photos that quickly fade and so-called “sticky packs,” which resulted from cartridge springs that were too weak to accommodate The Impossible Project’s thicker film.
Akaike says that listening to customer feedback and remedying issues before each new batch of film is manufactured is a top priority for The Impossible Project.
Though currently much less user-friendly than film manufactured by Polaroid, The Impossible Project’s products have cultivated a base of steadfast supporters. Many remain attached to their original Polaroid cameras, which are not compatible with Fujifilm Instax products.
Interior designer Kerry Lu (陸瑋妗) says several of her friends first became interested in instant film photography after purchasing vintage Polaroid cameras to display in their homes.
“The cameras themselves are gorgeous and a lot of people collect them just to look at them, but many of the cameras are still in working order,” says Lu. “When you press the button and hear the shutter snap and see your photo slide out, it’s very exciting.”