Last week on Caturday, I committed a sin: I posted pictures taken with my phone. Even worse than that, I posted pictures taken using a retro-look filter application on my phone.* I hang my head.
Over the course of the week, I’ve been working on something a bit more organically retro. Ever since I decided to work more actively with the resurrected Land Camera, I’ve been ever-so-slightly obsessed.
The first thing I had to do was to convert the old 4.5 volt battery to three AAA batteries. That was accomplished far more easily than I could have hoped. I just needed the battery holder out of a cheap flashlight and some electric tape. I was kind of excited about breaking out the soldering iron, but that will have to wait for another time.
Then, I had to figure out how to load and use the pack film. Polaroid doesn’t make the pack film for these cameras anymore, but Fuji still does, so I had two packs of Fujifilm 100C at the ready. I tested the battery (it worked!), and then I read the instructions and loaded the film. It was nighttime, so not optimal shooting conditions, but I simply couldn’t wait. I found a light source, cocked the shutter, and snapped.
It was too dark and not quite in focus, but when I peeled that film apart and saw an actual image, I was ecstatic. I resisted the urge to stay up until the wee hours to keep practicing because I had an early class in the morning, and somehow managed to fall asleep.
The next day was when it all went pear-shaped. First, the battery wasn’t working. I had to redo the tape and test again, which meant I had to waste a few shots because I couldn’t unload the film. Once I got that working, I realized that the tabs of the pack film were being difficult. To remove an exposed sheet of film, I have to pull a paper tab, which pulls on the film and allows access to a second tab. Pulling on that tab drags the sheet through the rollers to squeegee the chemicals. Then, I wait about 90 seconds and pull the film apart to reveal the print.
My tabs were sticking to each other. For example, the tab for sheet 2 was pulling out sheet 2 but also pulling out the tab for sheet 3. Then tab 3 would pull on sheet 3 and 4 and one sheet would then get stuck. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I wasted several shots to get this sorted out, including sheet 10 because I was forced to open the back, thus exposing the last sheet in the pack. I did get a couple more shots out of that first pack, but for the most part, I got a lot of black prints. I kept them aside for practice with a technique that I will get to a little further down.
Undaunted, I loaded a second pack. This time, I was prepared for the recalcitrant tabs. Now I know that I have to pull it out slightly, unstick it from the next tab, and then pull the rest out firmly. Since I’ve learned that trick, I’ve had no issues. Now it was time to start working on the actual images. I burned through a couple of shots that were either too blown out or too dark, but this was necessary to see how the camera behaved in different circumstances.
Fortunately, the learning curve is proving to be fairly steep, and I finally got some material now to really get to work. And because the snapshots are getting better, I decided to dive right into some of the other things I wanted to try, which were partly responsible for putting the Land Camera back in action in the first place.
Here’s the first print I made when things finally started falling into place:
When I was a kid, we always threw away the back of the peel-apart film. The point of the camera, after all, was to have the print. In my travels through Land Camera research, however, I learned that the back part can be made into a negative. It just takes some bleach, a plate of glass, some rubber gloves, and a lot of water. The negative will often create an image that differs from the print in some interesting ways.
The colors totally change, and there’s a sort of dreamy quality. The picture was a bit overexposed, which is more evident in the negative than in the print (though it’s easier to see on the actual print. It scanned into the computer a bit darker than it was on paper.) The image from the scanned negative feels more like my memory of that little garage rather than the real building in front of me. Even vivid memories show up in our minds in muted colors, some washed out parts that we don’t quite remember. This negative seemed to capture that washed-out memory quality much better than the print did.
And of course, there’s the retro lomography edges – this time created with chemicals and not with a software filter!
Finally, I tried a technique that has long been used with Polaroid prints: the emulsion transfer.
Enter all those black-only prints. They were perfect for practicing the technique, so I started my research. As it turns out, the instructions I chose to follow were more appropriate for the original Polaroid pack film. When my experiment worked, but in a different way and with different results, I did some more research. It turns out that the Fujifilm 100C prints behave a bit differently than the original Polaroid film. I practiced a bit more and figured out my own procedure.
I gained a bit more confidence, so I worked up to prints with actual images. Finally I was ready to put the little garage onto some watercolor paper:
Some people like to smooth out the emulsions and others like to keep folds in and reshape the image somewhat. I’m in the latter camp – I like the texture that is created by the crinkles. This is my first effort that actually looked like anything, so I’m hoping that future transfers will be better/more interesting. I plan to experiment with a little watercolor under or around the emulsion to highlight the colors, or to create a more saturated look.
So whaddya y’all think? Did I redeem myself from my Poseur Phone Post?
* There’s a professional photographer in Iowa that did his own picture-a-day project, using only an iPhone and one subject: a tree in Wisconsin which has come to be called “That Tree.” The pictures are impressive, I’ll have to admit, even if I’m resistant to the idea that they were taken with a phone. But any tool in the hands of a skilled user of that tool can yield quality work.