Christopher J Osborne

Impossible/Polaroid retrospective 2010-2020

When Polaroid announced that they would be closing the doors of the last Polaroid factory in 2008 there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst a small but loyal band of Polaroid devotees across the world. Fortunately for the rest of us, one of their number was Florian Kaps. He founded Impossible Project with a mission of restart production of film for Polaroid cameras. All the photographs in this gallery were shot on Impossible Project film.

Florian Kaps involvement with Polaroid began with the launch of polapremium.com in 2005, on online shop that quickly became the worlds biggest specialist supplier of Polaroid film and refurbished Polaroid cameras. But when Polaroid announced the end of Polaroid film production, polarpemium.com became Impossible Project (because everyone said restarting instant film production was impossible!) and in October 2008 they bought the Polaroid plant at Enschede, Netherlands for a cool $3,100,000.

So Impossible Project now had a factory full of the specialised machinery needed for the production of instant film, but what they didn't have was the chemistry. Polaroid had be using up old stocks of raw materials for several years before that finally closed their factory, so all of Polaroid's old suppliers had stopped making them years ago. So Impossible Project had to start again, literally, from scratch. Impossible's first product was a black and white film for SX-70 cameras called PX-70 First Flush was launched in 2010. And Polaroid fans like me were glad to be along for a roller coster ride of a lifetime as Impossible strived to change refine and improve their products. This article gives you a glimpse of what that ride was like!

The following film are covered in this article:

PX100 Silver Shade First Flush - Released early 2010
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

PX-70 First Flush 1
PX-70 First Flush 2
PX-70 First Flush 3
PX-70 First Flush 4

In the early days of Impossible projects journey, buying their products meant agreeing to be a guinea pig for a highly experimental products that were a long way from being the reliable and fully developed products people had grown to expect from Polaroid. As you can see here, Impossible's first product was a long way from being a neutral black and white film. It wasn't even 'sepia' really, more a quite vibrant shade of orangey-brown. The film speed was also somewhat variable from batch to batch making exposure something of a guessing came. And the prints didn't last long! First batches of film would fade to almost nothing within a few weeks! Impossible recommended drying out the prints in the days after exposure and sold metallic pouches with packets of silica for this purpose, but it didn’t make much difference!

But despite all these problems the results could be strange and very beautiful. You really just had to get used to scanning your prints immediately after exposure to preserve them digitally. And being on this experimental adventure was, never quite knowing what was going to come out of your camera next was quite thrilling.

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PX70 Color Shade First Flush for SX-70 cameras - Released mid 2010
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

PX70 Color Shade (First Flush) 1
PX70 Color Shade (First Flush) 2
PX70 Color Shade (First Flush) 3
PX70 Color Shade (First Flush) 4

Launched a few months after PX70 Silver Shade First Flush, PX70 Color Shade First Flush was Impossible's first ever colour film. As you can see it really wasn't a full colour film, more a blue with a little bit of pink film. But as always with Impossible Project film you had to treat the flaws as features! Not my favourite Impossible film, but still capable of interesting results with the right subjects.

The location for these photographs is Leith, to the north of Edinburgh.

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PZ600 Silver Shade 2nd Edition for Image & Spectra cameras - Released mid 2010
Shot using a Polaroid 1200si camera

PZ600 Silver Shade 2nd Edition 1
PZ600 Silver Shade 2nd Edition 2

This is film for Image & Spectra cameras with rectangular format rather than the iconic Polaroid square format. This second edition film is already showing clear improvements. It's still orange-brown rather than neutral black & white, but there is much more details. It's a shame though, that this early generation Image/Spectra film had grey lines on the frame. Unfortunately Polaroid discontinued all Image/Spectra films in 2019.

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PX600 Silver Shade UV+ for 600 cameras - Released early 2011
Shot using a Polaroid SLR680 camera

PX600 Silver Shade UV+ 1
PX600 Silver Shade UV+ 2
PX600 Silver Shade UV+ 3
PX600 Silver Shade UV+ 4

Impossible Project use a sheet of UV material to improve the tones of this film, give them their first black & white film with anything like neutral tones. This film still has a somewhat warm tone, but it has lost the rusty tones of earlier films.

The location for these photographs is North Berwick, a pretty little seaside town in East Lothian, Scotland.

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PX680 Color Shade First Flush for 600 cameras - Released mid 2011
Shot using a Polaroid SLR680 camera

PX680 Color Shade First Flush 1
PX680 Color Shade First Flush 2

Mid 2011 was an exciting time for Impossible fans! PX680 Color Shade First Flush was their first real colour film with a reasonably full range of colours including delicious shades of green orange and red. The colours weren't exactly accurate... the table I used for these still life shots was actually dark brown, not green! But never-the-less I think this might be my favourite Impossible colour film.

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PX70 Color Shade Color Protection for SX-70 cameras - Released mid 2012
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 1
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 2
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 3
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 4
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 5
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 6
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 7
PX70 Color Shade Color Protection 8

By mid 2012 Impossible were really starting to hit their stride with colour films. Their 'Color Protection' generation of films had more accurate colours than ever before... now starting to approach the old Polaroid films in this regard. The colours still have a distinctive and characterful quality though.

These photograph were all shot on a trip to London, mostly in and around the Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia areas.

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PX100 Silver Shade Cool for SX-70 cameras - Released late 2012
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

PX100 Silver Shade Cool 1
PX100 Silver Shade Cool 2
PX100 Silver Shade Cool 3
PX100 Silver Shade Cool 4

Here we return to black & white film 18 months after 'UV+' generation of film above we saw last. There has been an increase in contrast, but with a fairly limited dynamic range that made capturing details in the highlights difficult. But as is always the case for me when using Polaroid film, I'm not looking technical perfection. I'm more interested in capturing a unique atmosphere that is just impossible with any other kind of film.

All five of the photographs you see here were captured using the same generation of film, so I'm not sure why the first two of these photograph looks very different other 3. But I was using two different examples of the Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera, and we are dealing with the vagaries of 50 year old cameras here! You really do have to hold your breath when your print comes out of a Polaroid camera... you really do never quite know what you'll get. I can see how this would drive many people quite made, but I enjoy the adventure :-)

All of these photographs were taken around my home town of Edinburgh. The first two were taken in and around Holyrood Park, and the other 3 were taken at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh.

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PX70 Color Shade New Color Protection for SX-70 cameras - Released Early 2014
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

PX70 Color Shade New Color Protection 1
PX70 Color Shade New Color Protection 2
PX70 Color Shade New Color Protection 3
PX70 Color Shade New Color Protection 4

For Impossible's "New Color Protection" generation film from 2014 the contrast levels seemed to be increased, but without harming the lovely warm colours that seemed to suit these botanical subjects particularly well.

All of these photographs were taken at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

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Impossible SX-70 Color for SX-70 cameras - Released early 2014
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

Impossible Impossible SX-70 Color 1
Impossible SX-70 Color 2
Impossible SX-70 Color 3
Impossible SX-70 Color 4
Impossible SX-70 Color 5
Impossible SX-70 Color 6

In 2014 Impossible renamed their film products to match Polaroids original product names:

The first 4 of these photographs were taken in Berlin and the last 2 were taken in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh.

To me these first photographs taken with the renamed SX-70 Color film seem like a backward step from the earlier PX70 New Color Protection film. But I'm still very fond of these photographs (especially the rather strange results from the heavily contra-jour photographs of trees taken in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh), but technically the colours are harder and less natural looking.

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Impossible Cyanograph SX-70 for SX-70 cameras - Released early 2014
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

Impossible Cyanograph SX-70 1
Impossible Impossible Cyanograph SX-70 2
Impossible Cyanograph SX-70 3
Impossible Cyanograph SX-70 4

Cyanograph SX-70 was Impossible's first attempt to produce limited edition special effect films other than normal B&W and colour films. It was the precursor to their later "Duotone" film. These later Duochrome films were available in a range of colours with the colour mainly staining the highlight areas of the print. But in the early Cyanograph films it was both the shadow and highlight tones were completely replaced by shades of cyan. It was a unique effect which Polaroid have never attempted to reproduce.

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Impossible SX-70 B&W for SX-70 cameras - Released early 2014
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

Impossible SX-70 B&W 1
Impossible SX-70 B&W 2
Impossible SX-70 B&W 3
Impossible SX-70 B&W 4

These photographs were shot in 2015 in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. I'm not sure what happened with these SX-70 B&W photographs, but most of them came out catastrophically over exposed. I'm inclined to blame the vagaries of using a rather truculent 50 year old camera rather than the film. The fact that this film had been sitting in my fridge for a long time might also have been a factor. But as is so often the case I really like the effect. It gives these photographs an appropriately ghostly and mysterious effect that no amount of post-processing of digital photographs would have given me!

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Impossible Project rebranding as Polaroid

In 2017 Polaroid Corporation's film brand and intellectual property was acquired by Impossible Project and they rebranded first as Polaroid Originals, and in 2019 simply as Polaroid. This was something of a bitter-sweet moment for me. On one hand it marked the successful culmination of Impossible Project's original mission to successfully re-launch Polaroid films. And I think Polaroid's black & white film in particular hit a new high during the "Polaroid Originals" period.

But it also marked Impossible Projects move away from an exciting and thrilling experimental phase in which they actively courted and supported enthusiast and craft photographers with, for example, products specifically aimed at emulsion lift printers like myself. Polaroid is now a big global business which doesn't concern itself with such nonsense!

Polaroid Originals 600 B&W film for 600 cameras - Released 2017
Shot using a Polaroid SLR680 camera

Polaroid Originals 600 B&W 1
Polaroid Originals 600 B&W 2
Polaroid Originals 600 B&W 3
Polaroid Originals 600 B&W 4

If I had to pick my favourite black & white film since Impossible Project started producing film for Polaroid cameras I think the Polaroid Originals generation film would get the nod! There is a great combination of contrast and subtly to this generation of film. (But maybe the fact I was shooting 600 film in an SLR680 camera instead of SX-70 film in my ancient SX-70 camera has something to do with this!)

These photographs were taken at the Tate Modern museum in London.

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Polaroid Originals 600 Color film for 600 cameras - Released 2017
Shot using a Polaroid SLR680 camera

Polaroid Originals 600 Color 1
Polaroid Originals 600 Color 2
Polaroid Originals 600 Color 3
Polaroid Originals 600 Color 4

And this is the colour film of the same generation, again a very nice natural results.

These photographs were taken while walking around central London (mainly Fitzrovia, Bloomsbury and Holborn).

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Polaroid SX-70 B&W film for 600 cameras - Released 2019
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera

Polaroid SX-70 B&W 1
Polaroid SX-70 B&W 2
Polaroid SX-70 B&W 3
Polaroid SX-70 B&W 4

So now we complete our journey with Polaroid branded film. These photographs seem to be much lower in contract that the Polaroid Original generation film above, but again, that might be to do with shooting SX-70 film in an old SX-70 camera instead of 600 film in a much more modern SLR680 camera. Still, I thought the low contrast suited the subject matter here.

These photographs were taken at Chișinău Jewish cemetery in Moldova.

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Polaroid SX-70 Color film for 600 cameras - Released 2019
Shot using a Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR camera camera

Polaroid 600 Color 1
Polaroid 600 Color 2
Polaroid 600 Color 3
Polaroid 600 Color 4

And this is the colour film of the same Polaroid branded generation. Slightly disappointing colours, especially in the shows of the first one, but I do wish I'd taken a 600 camera instead of an SX-70 camera given the low lighting for some of these photographs. The ones of the back lit stained glass windows came out much better.

These photographs were taken in Pripyat, near Chernobyl in Ukraine.

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Polaroid Black & Yellow 600 Duochrome Edition film for 600 cameras - Released 2020
Shot using a Polaroid SLR680 camera camera

Polaroid Black & Yellow 600 Duochrome Edition 1
Polaroid Black & Yellow 600 Duochrome Edition 2
Polaroid Black & Yellow 600 Duochrome Edition 3
Polaroid Black & Yellow 600 Duochrome Edition 4

When Impossible Project release a whole series of limited edition Duochrome films back in 2017 somehow the whole phenomenon just passed me by entirely! These films were monochrome films that combined highlights stained in red, orange, yellow , pink or blue with black shadows. Pretty soon these rare films were exchanging hand for eye-watering sums of money on eBay!

So when the now rebranded Polaroid company started to release a whole new series of Duochrome films in 2020 I had to find out what all the fuss was about. So far they have only released Duochome films with black frames and for 600 cameras. And there's no doubt that these films are a lot of fun with the right subject matter. But I'm not sure they are going to become a regular part of my photography, even if Polaroid continue to release them.

These photographs were taken in Granton Harbour to the north of Edinburgh.

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