30 sept. 2008

Instant Photography a History of Magic with Light and Chemistry

Anyone who's ever worked with film roll to take pictures, and doesn't have his own dark room, knows about the terrible combination of frustration, expectation and fear one has when the roll is sent to a photo-lab to be developed. Some common expressions are:

"Was it a good picture?"
"I should have used a tripod. Do you think I should have used a tripod?"
"Damn you Nascar!! Can't they slow down just for a second???!!"
"I think I left the lens cap on..."
"It might have been overexposed..."

It's all this, mixed with the fact that everyone wants to look at the pictures of little Susan jumping into the pool for the first, that makes the developing process a loooooong one. We're talking about memories and jobs here, people!

You might remember from A (Very) Brief History of Photography, Part 1, about an early photographic development process called the Collodion process. The collodion process had many variations, although it was mainly made on glass. One of this variations was known as tintype, or ferrotype. It involved using a thin metal plate instead of glass, were the exposure would develop. Since the size of normal ferrotypes were rather "small", compared to other types of exposures, the development process was quicker. An experienced operator could finish developing the image in a few minutes. They were cheap to make, and also fast. So, one might call the ferrotype the first "instant" photograph.

True instant photography started back in 1947, when Edwin Herbert Land presented the Polaroid Land Camera to the world.  Named Model 95, it would use the peel-apart instant photography system. 

The exposure would be made on a negative material, which would then automatically be pressed down against a positive material. In between both, there was a small pod containing the developing agent, which would burst when both materials were pressed against each other and passed through two rollers. Original instant photographs would be sepia. In the 50's, this was upgraded to standard B&W, and in 1963, Polaroid released Polacolor, which used a process involving dye diffusion.  After being developed, both halves were peeled apart.

In 1972, the Integral film was introduced. Integral  film is the instant photgraphs everybody knows and loves: a gray image would come out of the camera, and it would gradually develop, right in front of you. Integral film would use a vanishing opacifier (the gray image that appears intially in the exposure, and then disappears, revealing the image) and the same development agent pod, mixed with a gelatin mixture, among other chemicals.

As well as being extremely practical, instant cameras had applications in the arts and experimentation:

In peel-apart exposure, emulsion-transfer and emulsion-lift are the two most popular techniques of modifying the exposure.

Emulsion transfer consisted on peeling the still developing image apart, and then, the negative image is rubbed on another support, while emulsion lift was made by separating the image from the print, and placed on another material, typically, watercolour paper.

In Integral films, one can manipulate the image by simply applying pressure on the still developing image. This way, one can achieve many effects done in Adobe Photoshop with his bare hands.

By rubbing the image, one can achieve a blurry effect, or even a melting effect, like the one in Peter Gabriel's third album

Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston

How to Make Better Polaroid Instant Pictures.