Polaroids are liberating.
A tiny, no fuss camera that instantly spits out a tiny little print after shutter is pressed. As one waits eagerly holding the print in hand, an image begins to appear becoming completely visible in about 90 seconds. Definitely not as fast as the digital cameras of today, but the key word here is "print". What one ends up with while using an instant camera is a tangible object in hand; a corporeal photograph instead of a collection of pixels on a chip.
I had never used an instant camera before I bought one a few months ago. I must confess that my intention behind buying it was to put it to use merely as a toy for a few amusing moments every now and then. Now after having exhausted quite a few film packs, I have realised that this format promises much more than I ever had imagined.
This would be an appropriate time also to make a disclaimer that though I am using a Fuji Instax Mini Neo 90 Classic, I am refering to the images as 'polaroids' because I feel the word has a ring to it and the label 'instant film images' doesn't even come close. The Fuji brand equivalent to 'polaroids' in the future could be 'instaxes', but I prefer sticking to 'polaroids' till then.
Though I was exclusively shooting digital for a number of years for various reasons despite having begun my photography long back on the analog 35mm format, I always felt a sense of detachment, which I could never quite comprehend. In hindsight, it was probably the frustration as a result of the utter lack of tactile sensation when shooting digitally that led me to a phase in my art practice where I was tearing up printed photographs and repasting random fragments together, abrasing prints using various tools and even making senseless sculptural forms at times from these collage like pieces. All of this of course manifested in to better things over the course of time as reason slowly but surely prevailed over exasperation.
Since the last year and a half I have not used a digital camera to make images. It is not that I have completely discarded digital image making, (I still do my scanographs and also scan my negatives) but when it comes to cameras I have completely shifted back to the analog media. That is where the Polaroids come in. It did not take too long for my casual shooting approach to gain more serious proportions and I started thinking of doing an actual project or two using this format. The instantness and yet a definite tactile quality that polaroids possess captivated my imagination. Also as I mentioned earlier an instant camera is far from any kind of technical sophistication. The consequence is that there are numerous uncertainties when it comes to the final output and that is exactly what I think is so alluring about polaroids. Erroneous exposures, shifted color temperatures, silhouettes where they were least expected, parallax errors and motion blurs topped the list in my case. The still do. Everytime I wait for that minute and a half for the print to develop, I am pleasantly surprised with the output. The process is an unraveling of a suspense. Mysteries remain unsolved! This experience is something that I had never had with any other format. The over reliance on perfection in the craft and technique became suffocating at times. Polaroid photography feels more organic and hence liberating in many ways. It opened various possibilities to explore for me and one of the first projects that I am currently working on, 'impermanence of memory' is a unique handmade photobook that uses polaroids that I had actually rejected.
There are also a couple of other series of polaroid works that are in progress and I will be finishing them soon. As I look back I am glad that I picked up an instant camera on a whim because it has turned out to be a toy that I has surpassed my expectations, and so will keep me company for a long time to come.