Photo Of The Day: “Fourth of July 2020” Polaroid SX-70

Yesterday was the Fourth of July and America celebrated its 244th birthday. With the Coronavirus once again wreaking havoc in much of the USA and social unrest gripping the nation, America’s birthday this year is very different from any other year in recent memory. Some say it might be the worst year ever. It may be a traumatic, tumultuous year but certainly not a boring year to say the least!

A precious memory from the Fourth of July, 2020, delivered by the Polaroid SX-70.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that every 4th of July, on a purely photo related level, I reflect on the cameras that I feel are true American Camera Legends and that’s what I’m doing today.

Past contenders were the Argus C3 and the Kodak Medalist. This year, it’s the Polaroid SX-70. I have used the SX-70 for many years, but have never really reviewed it though perhaps I should, but today is not that today. I have always kind of viewed it as a “personal project” camera.

I love shooting the SX-70 and I’d love to shoot it more often but the price of the film has always meant that it would never be my main shooter. I mean, for $18.99 you get 8 shots. That means you got to make every shot count! And sometimes I don’t or can’t.

Now in the past, especially in the early days of the Impossible Project’s attempts at keeping Polaroid film alive, I didn’t think the film was ready for prime time. It was very inconsistent with bad color shifts, uneven spots, scratches, etc. Needless to say I had many wasted shots which kind of killed my enthusiasm.

I understood even back then that they were attempting to do something that really seemed “Impossible” so I did not expect perfection right away. I’ve always admired their efforts as a great and noble project to salvage one of photography’s great treasures. I just didn’t want to throw good money out but I supported the project whenever I could by buying stuff from them.

Flash forward to today, and I’m pleased to say the SX-70 film that Polaroid (formerly Polaroid Originals, formerly the Impossible Project) have been putting out for the past few years is much better! Rich, colorful and sharp, and everything is more consistent. I feel that the color is shifted more to the blue or “cool” spectrum but that’s just an observation not a complaint.

The SX-70 remains not only an iconic camera but still a very affordable Camera Legend in today’s world. If you like instant photography, get it!

Today, I just want to celebrate Dr. Edwin Land’s creation with a photo I took yesterday on the Fourth of July. The SX-70 was introduced in 1972 and to me it remains one of the greatest photographic machines ever made. The beauty of a sharply focused SX-70 print is something to behold.

Just one more shoutout to the makers of the current Polaroid film. Making quality instant film is a fine art and these folks have truly done the impossible in not only keeping SX-70 film (and consequently, the SX-70 itself) alive but also to continue to improve it to the point where I think it’s nearly as good as the original Polaroid formula. Well done guys!

Now I’m just hoping their pack film project goes just as well. It will take time, maybe even years, but I’m convinced they can do it!

The Instagram Society And The Age Of The Ugly

Did you take a perfectly good photo or even a bad photo and “funk it up” using one of those cool Instagram filters? Come on, admit it…Yes, we’ve all done it! 🙂

In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of what I’d like to call “ugly” photographs. No disrespect intended to any one photographer, I myself have posted many “ugly” photos!

DianaCam1

The Diana F+ “Toy Camera” by Lomography. Worn out and missing its plastic lens.

So what do I mean by “ugly” photos? Well, I’m talking about photos that are blurry, have lots of digital grain or noise, vignetting, fake scratches, funky colors, HDR, and a myriad of other things that try to accentuate the actual photograph.

When I started taking an interest in photography in the early 80’s, we’d always send out our film for developing and prints. The “good” photos were sharp, clear, and well exposed. The “ugly” photos were blurred, under/over exposed, and the colors were funky. The ugly photos were relegated to the trash bin, or for me, the bottom of the stack since I never throw away photos.

MinoltaJoeDadC

“Family Classic 1985” Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. What a “real” vintage print from nearly thirty years ago looks like. Dirty, scratchy, colors getting funky, but wonderfully nostalgic…to me anyway 🙂

In the film days, I don’t remember many people looking at a blurry print with wonky colors and thinking it was beautiful. Yes, you had the occasional odd print that was technically horrible, but looked pleasing to the eyes. However, there weren’t many of them.

Today though, people relish in these things! Why? Well, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with today’s Instagram society. Of course, Instagram provided an easy way to “funk up” your photos by making them look old, faded, blurred, etc, etc, basically all the stuff I listed above.

YashicaC

The Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga” Toy Camera.

The main reason I believe for today’s interest in “ugly” photos and probably one of the reasons why Instagram and “Instagram-like” filters are so popular these days is simply due to one fact…

As digital cameras get better and better, the images look cleaner and cleaner. They look “perfect” at times, and as such the images begin to look homogenized, pasteurized, and sterilized. A technically perfect image begins to look bland because of how clean it is.

YashicaHydrant

“The Hydrant” Yashica EZ F521. A perfectly bland, unremarkable image from the Yashica digital toy camera. Something that could only be appreciated by the “Age Of The Ugly” society 🙂

And with so many people into photography these days, some try to stay above the crowd by using these filters or techniques that will give that extra “oomph” to their images.

There’s also a bit of nostalgia for that film-like look. Many youngsters today are actually shooting film. Some actually love it, and some are hipsters riding on what they believe is retro cool. I suspect most are in between.

I ran into a teenager recently in Central Park shooting with a Polaroid One Step, and I thought “Dude, seriously?!” 🙂

Anyway, I was happy to see such a young person with a Polaroid, it can only be a good thing.

SX

The iconic Polaroid SX-70. Apologies for the poor quality of this photo. It was a quickie done for my Instagram stream.

Speaking of Polaroids, this is probably where it all began. Let’s face it, Polaroids were never about high technical quality. They were originally intended for quick prints and proofs. The resolution was never really high on small Polaroid prints, except for some of the oldest instant films which have not been made in years.

The Polaroid’s best distinction was the ability to give a unique “look” due to the soft prints, the unpredictable color shifts, and the best of user error. And each and every Polaroid instant print is unique because each print represents that very moment the shot was taken.

SpeedGraphicCam

“Speed Graphic” 2011. A Polaroid print, shot with the Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible instant color film.

The most ironic thing to all of this “ugliness?” Well, since I started shooting film in the 80’s I have seen 35mm film improve year after year with super-sharp films like Fuji Velvia, Kodak Ektar, and a few others. Then you needed to step up to medium format to get even better, sharper images with even less noise. And then, if you wanted to take it further, you had large format film with its superior sharpness, detail, resolution and lack of grain.

All of a sudden, digital photography comes of age in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The cameras and lenses got progressively better and sharper. The images had less and less digital noise, distortion, and we get to cameras and lenses that can take near perfect images in almost any situation, which is where we are at today.

So as a “backlash” to all this progress, we are back to wanting “ugly” 🙂

SamC

“Underdog” 2011. Shot with the Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga.” Toy cameras with all their “ugliness” can be lots of fun to use and can produce unique images.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It can be neither or both. It can be a good thing for creativity, for something different. However, it can be a bad thing because it gives everyone a perfectly good excuse to be a sloppy photographer.

Again, I’m not knocking anybody, but trying to understand the evolution of what I’m seeing in photography today. I’m guilty as sin of posting many, many ugly photos! Personally, if an “ugly” photo is done well, it can be a beautiful thing. Some people do it really well. I am not one of them though, but I try 🙂

Butterfly

“GPS” 2010. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

But to understand why people would throw all this photographic and technical progress away and funk up their photos with beautiful ugliness, there is no answer. All I can think of is that line of the Michael Jackson song…”If they say why, why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature” 🙂

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“Smoke Daddy” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

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“SX” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

Note: This is just one man’s view and commentary. I do realize that art is highly subjective. In fact, I used to say myself, “One man’s art is another man’s junk.” 🙂

However, this is about photography more so than art and when “art” begins taking over your photographs, then you’ve got something different from photography. Thanks for stopping by! I do appreciate the time you spent. Thank you.