Update: The Impossible Project

Pola.jpgA year ago, when Joel Johnson blogged about The Impossible Project at Boing Boing Gadgets, it seemed, yes, an impossibility, or maybe one of those conceptual art projects that never actually come to life: The re-introduction of instant-picture film made on Polaroid's original factory equipment. This week it's real, and while it may not have been impossible, it sure can't have been easy. A group described by the AP as "enthusiasts" had to lease the old Polaroid plant in The Netherlands, navigate a thicket of technical issues, and actually bring the product to market. The result, at last: The first new black-and-white film packs go on sale this week, with color to follow this summer.

Is the idea practical? Not very. As Johnson pointed out a year ago, you can get a very close approximation of Polaroid film by digital means for a fraction of the cost. (The first new films will sell for almost $3 a shot). But is it weird, cool, even inspiring as a tale of perseverance against technical obsolescence, against time itself? Absolutely.


  1. You can get digital presets labeled as some variation of “Polaroid” but those rarely compare to the real thing.

  2. One of my first cameras was a Polaroid with instant developing. I miss that so much. These days kids look at you funny if you mention shaking a photograph.

    Or photographs.

  3. Polaroid film may never compete with digital on price, convenience or quality, but that’s beside the point. Polaroid film’s utility is precisely in its irascible inconvenience; the fact that it demands of you sacrifices (spending money on film, lugging around a big camera which can only take a handful of photos, not being able to delete the bad ones) makes it valuable as a badge of belonging to an elite underground subculture, much like cassette-only music labels, fixed-gear bicycles and, indeed, Lomography.

    In the very near future, all the photos from the coolest parties in Williamsburg will be taken with Polaroid film, and the kids with digital cameras won’t even get invited.

  4. @acb

    Doesn’t those self-appointed “elite subcultures” annoy the hell out of you though?

    The idea that someone creates art that you have to somehow prove yourself worthy of accessing…what they have created is not art but a kind of reflexive self-celebration.

    1. As a close friend of the team, a photographer and the person who made their intro video on their site, I can tell you with certainty that elitism, hipster fashion or a Luddite sensibility have nothing to do with the motivations behind the Impossible Project. Only their love for instant photography. They are even reviving an analog of the Polaroid Collections. Everyone involved in the Impossible Project is the most genuine, sincere lover of instant photography that I have ever met. They deserve nothing more than an enthusiastic “thank you” from anyone who has the slightest interest in instant photography.

      1. Grant,

        Please convey my upmost appreciation and admiration to their work in “rescuing” this instant analog format. I’ve been following their progress since it was first mentioned here. They will receive not only thanks from me but as much support as I can offer them.

        The beauty of Polaroids isn’t that they’re better shots than digital (my phone can probably take a clearer, more focused, better color-rendering image) but they are an instant keepsake of that particular moment that you can take with you right then. No e-mailing later, no spending an hour in Photoshop tweaking the color temperature, no waiting for the lab to finish their work, it just is what it is.

        Instead of having everyone sign our wedding book that we would never look at again, we left Polaroids out with markers and encouraged everyone to take a photo and sign it instead. It’s probably the coolest idea I’ve ever had and it’s something that we look at more than the actual wedding album.

        I have 17 shots left of the old film that I hoard and yet waste needlessly on fun shots that I want to give my kid later. The Impossible Project lets me shoot with freer abandon knowing that I’ll be able to keep doing this as long as I want.

      2. Well, I was a Senior Scientist at Polaroid and reported directly to the Director of Research of the company. It is an amazing effort to recreate Polaroid film. Color will be much more difficult than black and white. I hope they will stick with the “peel apart” color and forget about trying the integral stuff. Except for the artsy ability to manipulate the images and the dubious thrill of watching the image appear in front of your eyes, it wasn’t nearly as good as the peel-apart film anyway. A great effort and I’m sure they must have been motivated by the love of the medium. Why else would anyone even attempt to pull this off.

    2. “The idea that someone creates art that you have to somehow prove yourself worthy of accessing…what they have created is not art but a kind of reflexive self-celebration.”

      True, it’s not art. But far as I can tell, that elitism is what art criticism is all about. That’s why modern art is popular among critics: precisely because it has no value to any but the self-appointed cognoscenti.

      And that’s why “populist” art, which anyone can look at and relate to, is so denigrated by critics.

  5. read the full article and saw the review of the film, seems that it is still experimental and really touchy, and expensive to pay about 30.00 plus shipping to get about 1 maybe nice shot?
    When this becomes a plug and play instant gratification true to Polaroid film, please repost the results.

  6. Too bad I tossed all my cameras years ago. I never imagined this, but honestly even if I did have the gear I doubt I’d ever get around to buying the film. It would be one of those neat ideas that I never get around to.

  7. In homage to to this, I pledge to periodically remove the CF card from my DLSR and flap it vigorously.

    I assume that will give me room for more shots by compacting the bits, in much the same way flapping polaroids sped up the development.

  8. Oh, please don’t conflate analog photo folks with hipsters. Huge separation there. We love Polaroid because we have always used it (I’ve got three packs of it left in my fridge, plus 3 shots left in my SX-70). We love photography because it captures more than we can see in the moment and Polaroid because it shows it to us in the next. We love Polaroid because it shows us something in an unexpected way. This film promises to bring all of that back, and I’d gladly pay $30 a pack for what I have to not be the 33 last. Not to mention that most people use $30 in electricity charging their cameras and running their computers before finding one good shot in the 12,000 they took yesterday.

  9. So are these reinvented batches of Polaroid film moldable like the earlier type of the old Polaroid stock, as exploited by Ralph Steadman for his “paranoids”? Coz that would add extra awesome.

  10. I think this is awesome. I have huge sentimental and aesthetic attachments to the Polaroid format. It’s almost magic to watch them develop, and it lets anybody, regardless of technical knowledge or darkroom availability enjoy that. Of course, that’s assuming they’ve got a camera and can afford the film. If it’s “hipsters” who appreciate that, well, hooray for hipsters. (Besides, only hipsters think about whether or not somebody’s a hipster. And yes, I realize that I am caught in that assessment.)

  11. I’m actually ecstatic that they managed to pull it off and i hope in the long run their huge risk will pay off in some way. I will absolutely buy a Polaroid instant pic camera because of this (i’ve been wanting to get one for years and this as good as an excuse as any)

  12. One of the things that makes Polaroid film attractive is that it is possible to make transfer prints of several kinds using the instant film. A number of artists have worked in this medium over the years and are very happy about the film (or a facsimile thereof) being produced again.

    1. I am currently taking a Hybrid (alternative process) photo class right now and we were doing polaroid transfers last night. I also met someone from the Impossible Project at the PDN Photo Expo a few months ago and he seemed like he was a genuine guy. Unfortunately, and ironically, as a photography student I can’t afford any of this new stuff, but I am stoked that it is coming back! I’d like to add that many photographers who shoot medium and large format use polaroids for proofing, theres more demand for this stuff outside of “hipster” culture.

  13. There is something very special about a photograph that is not only the “original” but where the photo was actually present at the event – it is a record which is also an artifact.

    1. What I’ve always found kind of magical about Polaroids is that unlike 35mm or other film formats, there’s no negative. There’s no original from which an infinite number of copies can be made. Each photo is an original, and one-of-a-kind. Cool.

      For screwing around with digital approximations, Poladroid is fun.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now if I can find *batteries* for my old Polaroid, I’ll be back in business.

    To those who say you can approximate ‘polaroid’ affects digitally, I’ve been using Photoshop since version 1.0 and I don’t know what you’re talking about. When I zoom in on a digital photo I see pixels. When I magnify a polaroid, I see no pixels, not even grain, only beautiful die-sublimation tones.

    1. Most polaroids have the batteries integrated into the film pack, like the 600, 1000 and SX-70.

  15. When I saw this yesterday, I have to admit I cried staring at the screen. Many people won’t get it, or will relegate it to art snobbery or a trend, but that’s ok. Not everyone has to get it or like it, or understand why anyone would be brought to tears over the thought of being able to use their grampa’s camera again.
    Beyond that, it’s like developing your own film, or printing your own images… there’s just something magical about something so quirky and ephemeral. Art -hell, the world – could use a little more magic, I think.
    <3 thank you Impossible Project.

  16. A few years ago–less now, unfortunately–I played around with an old twin lens reflex with black and white film, which I developed myself. Similar to some posts in this thread, there is a never ending debate online about why bother with film when you can reproduce the results with a digital camera and the GIMP (just kidding…Photoshop.) But the fun part for me was THE PROCESS! I loved the process required to get from a roll of opaque film to strips of negatives with my images on them.

    I revisit this argument several times a month when I make pancakes from scratch, even though there’s a box of perfectly tasty pancake mix on the shelf.

  17. In my mind this is similar to the people who keep Edsels, 1960 Corvettes, and aircraft like WACO biplanes and DC-3s and Spitfires, running and looking like new. They dedicate so much effort to keep alive an artifact from the past, one whose aesthetic is unique and takes everyone back in time a little bit. Of course a seat-mile in a DC-3 is vastly more expensive than on a 777, but practicality is not the point. And if your personal life (or that of a loved one) was intimately tied with those machines during their heyday, then seeing one still running (let alone getting to use one yourself) can definitely bring a tear to your eye.

    And if you worry than this is powered by nostalgia alone, i.e. that in 70 years no one will see the point of doing all this work for the sake of old cameras that have been “old” since the beginning of everyone’s lifetime… I can point you to people who still lovingly maintain aircraft from World War 1, and who spend years building accurate replicas from scratch.

    On the other hand, very few home appliances from that era are maintained and run. So not all machines have such long-lasting effects on the motivation of enthusiasts. Sounds like these cameras have a pretty good future though.

  18. Sidestepping the artistic aspect of this, it would be really useful to be able to hand my yoga students polaroids of themselves.

  19. I have it. I shot it in a new old stock chrome and leather SX70. I have vast experience with al types of Polaroid media (peel apart, SX 70, 600, from iZone to 8 x 10). Kudos. It works. Took 5 shots to dial in darkness, temperature and exposure compensation but I have a lovely sepia of my while Solstice in full sun looking like it was shot with a 1920’s Kodak Autographic…sepia much like the lamented Type 54. Huge an interesting brokeh. Way cool. Spendy as hell. Fun

  20. My ex left behind an sx -70 that has from what I can see very little usage……therefore I have just placed my first $1.000 order of the new range of films…including the ‘Fade to Black’.

    As a pro that still shots 4×5 tranny…I am looking forward to using these new product as an add on from the past that can only inspire me more.

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