The Impossible Project (IP), a company based in the Netherlands, has recently announced that it will add the infamous 8×10 “peel-apart” instant film to its roster of products as it continues to reintroduce the lost world of Polaroid into the second decade of the 21st century. After it declared bankruptcy in 2008, the Polaroid Corp. announced it would terminate production of its instant films and one executive was rumored to have said, “it will be impossible for anyone else to produce these complex films” – hence one the explanations for the aptly named IP. The IP began to manufacture its first instant films in 2010 and while I have deep admiration for their spunk and initiative, I wonder if that Polaroid executive may have been correct – at least in part. Even though the IP is run by former Polaroid employees using the Polaroid machinery in one of the old Polaroid factories, their products don’t have many similarities to the original Polaroid products. Lack of access to patents, suppliers and to some of the closely guarded Polaroid secrets meant the IP had to reinvent instant film. How do the IP films compare to the real McCoy made be Polaroid just a few years ago? …. not so great. While there are many comparisons to “fine wine” in their marketing material – the IP films fade, are very inconsistent and lack the rigid quality control systems that Edwin Land’s Polaroid Company insisted on for all its products. IP films have been plagued by stability problems to the point that they’ve introduced the “Impossible Dry Age Kit” (only $8.99) to slow down fading caused by humidity. The press images for their new IP 8×10 film show all kinds of manufacturing problems including chemical staining and uneven development. However, while Edwin Land may be rolling in his grave and photographers like myself declare the latest batch of IP wine to be plonk, a new generation of Instagram image-makers happily pay twice the price for half the quality while declaring, “Cool!”. This is not surprising as I think most of them see the IP prints as an intermediate step between the camera and the digital world – usually scanning their images immediately after development. In fact, the IP has also recently introduced a device that allows their customers to copy their digital iPhone images onto IP instant film – super-cool! Indeed, while the IP is working with analog media they recognize their market are digital hipsters. Their attraction to the IP film is precisely because the resulting photographs don’t look like the digital images created on their iPhones. The fact that the IP films are messy, unpredictable and there is no “Control Z” button to push once the image is formed is a big plus in an age of digital banality and homogeneity.
Bravo to IP but I also wonder if this company and its products signal the last chapter in the long history of a ubiquitous 20th century product: film. Once a carefully manufactured material used for numerous applications such art, cinema, reportage, science, etc. – it looks as though film in the 21st century may be reduced to a toy or novelty.