The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera: A Unique Tool for Creating Artistic Imagery
By Joshua Ray Caldwell
A culminating document submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Photography Brooks Institute of Photography November 2008
© 2008 Joshua Ray Caldwell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Polaroid SX-70 Land camera can still be used as a unique tool for creating artistic imagery, despite the fact that the camera and film are no longer produced. Many photographers and artists in the past have used the SX-70, and many continue to use it today as a creative tool. Since film for the camera is no longer available, the camera must be converted using various methods to allow it to work with an available Polaroid film. Polaroid 600 film is similar in many ways to the original film produced for the camera but will not work in the SX-70 camera unless adjustments are made. The conversion techniques discussed in this thesis are effective. They have been tested and proven in this thesis and have been used to create a finished series of fifteen images. Each technique has its own unique benefits and drawbacks but allows the SX-70 to still be used as a creative tool for producing artistic imagery.
The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera: A Unique Tool for Creating Artistic Imagery
TABLE OF CONTENTS List of Figures
List of Plates
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Review of Literature
The SX-70 Land Camera
The SX-70 as an Artistic Tool
Chapter 3: Methods
2-Stop ND Filter
Photocell ND Filter
Film Pack Filter
Chapter 4: Results
Lost in Reverie
2-Stop ND Filter: Advantages and Disadvantages
Photocell ND Filter: Advantages and Disadvantages
Film Pack Filter: Advantages and Disadvantages
Photocell Override: Advantages and Disadvantages
Electronic Modification: Advantages and Disadvantages
Chapter 5: Discussion / Conclusion
LIST OF FIGURES
Headlight without polarizing filter
Headlight with polarizing filter
1947 Optical Society demonstration
Land with a Polaroid 95 Land camera
SX-70 design prototype, 1965
The Original SX-70 Land camera
Light Path in the SX-70
Parts of the SX-70
SX-70 film process
Land on the cover of Life, Oct. 1972
Nub removal method
Guard bypass method
Lens ND template
Lens filter size
Adhesive filter mount ring
SX-70 with and without filter
Mount ring and filters for photocell
Pack filter template
2 stop ND gel sheet
Cut out pack filter with dimensions
Mounted pack filter
PVC elbow light reflector
Override the photocell setup
Capacitors used in conversion
TORX screws on the SX-70
The SX-70 circuit board
Unsolder points for conversion
Capacitor unsolder points
LIST OF PLATES 2.1
Walker Evans, Sign Detail, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, Oct. 1, 1974
Walker Evans, Sign Detail, Destin, FL, Aug. 12, 1974
Walker Evans, Crushed Can, 1973-74
André Kertész, May 6, 1979
André Kertész, Aug. 29 1982
André Kertész, July 3, 1979
David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86
David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86
David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86
Elizabeth Soule, Owl on Page, 2007
Elizabeth Soule, Ostrich, 2007
Elizabeth Soule, Rabbit, 2008
Grant Hamilton, Winnebago, 2008
Grant Hamilton, Smile, 2008
Grant Hamilton, New Mexico, 2007
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The author would like to thank:
Danielle, Sadie and Samuel Caldwell Jo Ellen Eng, Ryan Bowden and Robert Bradshaw Morris and Dorothy Caldwell and family Daniel and Peggy Campbell and family David Tyner and Michelle Connor
While working on my BFA degree in 2003 in Salt Lake City, UT, I first discovered the folding Polaroid SX-70 camera at a thrift store. I remember digging it out from amongst a pile of other old cameras, left there, unwanted by the previous owners. I remember thinking how odd and unique it was, having never seen a Polaroid camera like it before. I unfolded it and folded it over and over, trying to figure out exactly how and if it still worked. Regrettably, I did not purchase it because I had no interest in shooting with a Polaroid camera at the time and did not think I would ever have a use for it. A few years later, I became interested in shooting Polaroid film after buying a later model, plastic, instant Polaroid camera from a swap meet for $1. When I realized the joy of shooting with a Polaroid camera and after I had done a bit of research, I then realized exactly what the SX-70 had to offer. I instantly regretted not having purchased the one I had found at the thrift store those few years prior. As I continued to shoot with my $1 Polaroid camera, the regret deepened. I began searching every thrift store and antique shop I came upon in hopes of rectifying my earlier mistake and somehow lessening the pain. Eventually I gave up hope and went on line to purchase one. I bought one for $75 dollars - $70 dollars more than the one I had passed up. When it arrived in the mail, I could not put it down. The camera was beautiful in design and function, and it folded down to a flat, portable, self-contained
and protected position. It was even more beautiful than I remembered the one from the thrift store being. I began looking for film for my SX-70 and learned that Polaroid had discontinued the production of SX-70 film a short time before. I knew that other photographers were shooting with the camera, so I researched how this was possible. I found that there were several options for converting the SX-70 to be able to accept another type of Polaroid film still in production. By applying the techniques for converting the camera that I had found, I was able to shoot with my SX-70 camera. The images I could create with the SX-70 and Polaroid film were unique and beautiful and offered me a unique tool for creating artistic imagery.
Chapter 1: Introduction Polaroid has been an important part of the photographic world for over sixty years. Since the release of instant cameras in 1948, Polaroid has mainly marketed its cameras and film to the mass consumer market, or as Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid put it, “‘the mothers of America’” (qtd. in Wensberg 92). Originally many professionals “regarded the new process of instant photography benignly as a novelty, a scientific curiosity” (Wensberg 97). They felt that this new invention was no more than a child’s toy, and, “if it was so easy, how could it be worthwhile?” (Olshaker 64). For various reasons, many professional photographers and artists eventually became attracted to the Polaroid process for use in creating artistic imagery, using Polaroid images for test photographs or merely for creative purposes. Polaroid films offered photographers and artists a unique tool for creating artistic images that had not previously been available to them. Many of these attractive aspects were due to the unique makeup of the chemistry involved in the instant process and the ease and quick response time from shooting to viewing the finished image. In 1972, Polaroid released its most important invention to date: the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera system. The SX-70 offered all the previous benefits of instant photography but was easier than ever to use. The SX-70 featured a smaller, more compact design than previous instant cameras and could be folded flat when not in use (Eames and Eames). The film was simpler to load and shoot, and created no mess,
unlike earlier instant films. Like Polaroid cameras and film before it, the SX-70 was widely used among amateurs, but it also found its way into the hands of professionals. Until recently, film for the SX-70 camera was widely available. Due to loss of sales to digital technology, Polaroid began to discontinue instant film and in 2005 announced that it would stop producing SX-70 film altogether. Since digital technology had won the majority of the mass consumer market by this time anyway, mainly those interested in using the SX-70 camera for its creative aspects were affected. Many photographers and artists refused to retire their creative tool. They found ways to convert the SX-70 camera to enable it to use another, similar type of similar Polaroid film that was still available. The SX-70 camera is a unique tool for creating artistic imagery. Despite the fact that the camera has been out of production for many years and film for the camera is no longer available, the SX-70 camera can still be used as a creative tool. The purpose of this thesis is to discuss the techniques required to convert the camera so that it may be used to create artistic imagery using available Polaroid film. This thesis will discuss seven of these conversion methods. Two of them involve loading the film, and five involve shooting. The conversion methods will all be explained, and the five involved in image making will be tested by creating a series of artistic images, three images for each of the five conversion methods, for a total of fifteen images. These images will be analyzed, and the pros and cons of each technique will be discussed, since each technique offers its own benefits and drawbacks. By understanding how each of these conversion techniques works and the pros and cons
of each, photographers and artists interested in using the SX-70 camera to create artistic imagery will be better able to do so.
Chapter 2: Review of Literature
Edwin Land Mainly known as a scientist and inventor, the founder and genius behind Polaroid, Edwin Land, was in constant pursuit of creating a better world with his inventions. “Science is for him a process of uncovering individual human potential” (Olshaker 131). Land’s own human potential can be recognized in his life story, the events of which would eventually lead him to create instant photography. His “innovative contribution” is regarded as one of the most important photographic inventions since the beginning of photography (Newhall 281). Yet it might not have been accomplished had things happened differently. Edwin Herbert Land was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on May 7, 1909, to Harry and Martha Land. It was apparent early on that Land was a genius and that he possessed great potential. When Land was a child, a handsome mantel clock, of which his father was inordinately proud and which chimed the hours, the halves, and the quarters, captured his attention. One evening when his parents were out, the boy climbed to the mantelpiece on a living room chair, took the clock down, and, using a fine screwdriver, disassembled it, laying the parts out carefully and methodically on a newspaper spread out on the oriental carpet. He worked quickly to complete the autopsy and reassemble the corpus, but he was still on his knees among the
pieces when his parents returned. His usually indulgent father showed his anger by punishing the boy and collecting the parts of the timepiece in a box and sending them to a clockmaker…His father told him he could set up a lab in the basement as long as clocks and other household necessities remained out of bounds. (Wensberg 21) From an early age, Land was passionate about science and how and why things worked. “As a boy, Land became fascinated with toys that fed his curiosity about science. These included kaleidoscopes and stereoscopes” (McElheny, Insisting 18). At a summer camp in upstate New York, he was introduced to Iceland spar (also known as calcite) by one camp leader who demonstrated the light polarizing effects the crystal had on glare (McElheny, Edwin par. 7). Land’s curiosity in science – and, specifically, light-polarization – continued, and at seventeen, he entered Harvard University. Upon entering Harvard, Land began “searching for a field that would make his name known to the world of science” (Wensberg 26). He contemplated many fields and the potential of each. He said, “‘I find the first event is an urge to make a significant intellectual contribution that can be tangibly embodied in a product or process’” (qtd. in Wensberg 26). After much consideration, self-exploration and research, Land decided to make the science of polarized light his field of study (Wensberg 26). During a break in his first year at Harvard, Land visited New York City where he had an experience that would change everything.
While walking alone down Broadway, he was at once overpowered by the spectacle of the theater marquees, giant illuminated billboards, and fashionable automobiles, and disconcerted by the oppressive glare from the countless light sources. At this specific moment it occurred to the 17-year-old freshman that there must be a way to preserve the majestic illumination of a place like the Great White Way, while at the same time eliminating the glare that made each light source compete with every other one. There was also, he correctly figured, the very real danger to both pedestrians and motorists of being momentarily blinded by the glaring headlights of on-coming traffic. (Olshaker 13) For the first time, Land could see the real world implications of light polarization and a tangible “product” coming to life from his scientific study and experiments (Olshaker 14; Wensberg 26). He envisioned every automobile coming off the assembly line fitted with light polarizing filters to reduce the glare caused by headlights. Land dropped out of Harvard to pursue his idea despite his parents’ disapproval and “planned to study and experiment in New York” (Wensberg 29). Although Land would eventually return to Harvard several times, he would never earn a degree. The young scientist had other plans for achieving his success. Land moved to New York as planned and began his intense study of light polarization. After several years of research and experiments in his apartment, Land decided more room and equipment were needed to continue. Land and Helen
Maislen, a new colleague who would eventually become his wife, would sneak into a Columbia University laboratory window at night to experiment (Wensberg 34). They climbed up a fire escape and went through a convenient window that was usually left unlocked….He was attempting to orient herapathite, iodide-quinine crystals, in a small glass cell. He had spent a month grinding the needle-shaped crystals to microscopic fineness with a small hand mill. He then mixed them with a solution of nitrocellulose lacquer, a process that would have caused the Columbia administration grave concern had they been aware of it. (34) With the use of an electromagnet, Land “marshaled millions of tiny iodine needles into perfect linear orientation…so that the light that shown through them was combed into polarization” (34). From such experiments, Land was finally able to create a working polarizer, something that had never been accomplished before.
Polaroid Land moved back to Boston with his wife and new invention, and it was there that he met George Wheelwright, III, a recent graduate and new instructor at Harvard (Wensberg 36). Wheelwright became interested in Land’s experiments, and the two of them formed the first company, “Land-Wheelwright Laboratories,” which would later become Polaroid (39). The young company was presented with various opportunities for their light polarizer including a large order on November 30, 1934, from Kodak for the polarizer
to be used for camera filters (Olshaker 18). Other opportunities would come and go, but none ever brought Land and Polaroid the success they desired or the income to keep them in business. Land always hoped from the beginning that Polaroid’s big break would come from the automotive industry using Polaroid filters in vehicles to reduce headlight glare (Figs. 2.1 and 2.2). However after years of investment and energy spent on trying to sell the idea, it never yielded any success. The reason was that “styling and horsepower sold cars; safety did not. People didn’t want to be reminded that cars were dangerous” (Wensberg 64).
Fig. 2.1. Headlight without polarizing filter (McElheny, Insisting Fig. 1).
Fig. 2.2. Headlight with polarizing filter (McElheny, Insisting Fig. 2).
The onset of World War II did bring many opportunities to Polaroid, however, in the form of war contracts. One such war contract was for a plastic gun sight. Polaroid successfully created a sight and “direct fire from General Patton’s Sherman tanks became more accurate overnight” (Wensberg 73). Many of Land’s inventions would help to win the war and essentially kept Polaroid in business. As the end of the war approached and war contracts ended as well, Land knew something big needed to happen soon.
Instant Photography While on a vacation in New Mexico with his family in 1943, Land took a photograph of his three year old daughter Jennifer. Upon snapping the photograph, Jennifer innocently asked if she could see the picture (Taubman 82). After several
attempts to explain why she could not see the picture, Land began thinking, Why shouldn’t she be able to see the picture right now? (Callahan 48). Within an hour the camera, the film and the physical chemistry became so clear that with a great sense of excitement I hurried to the place where a friend was staying, to describe to him in detail a dry camera, which would give a picture immediately after exposure. In my mind it was so real that I spent several hours on this description. (qtd. in Callahan 48) For Land, this next venture was a perfect fit. “Polaroid had skirted the field of photography repeatedly since its inception as Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932” (Wensberg 83). Land put several researchers from the company on the project immediately to begin brainstorming about the functionality of the camera. The file name for the new instant camera project, ironically, was “SX-70” (Wensberg 86). The last of the remaining war contracts would end soon, and Land could hardly wait to focus all his attention on this new and exciting project, which would finally give Polaroid its big break. Five years had passed since Land’s vision when Polaroid revealed its new technology to the world. “At the 1947 convention of the Photographic Society of America, held in Cincinnati, Edwin Land’s technical demonstration of instant photography [Fig. 2.3] was the overwhelming hit of the show” (Olshaker 58). Soon after this demonstration, Polaroid released its first instant camera, the Polaroid 95 Land camera (Fig. 2.4). The Polaroid 95 was an instant success, due in part to a
â€œmarketing plan that would hopefully give the aura of hard-to-get desirability and exclusivityâ€? (61). Land would employ this same strategy with many other Polaroid camera releases to come, including the release of the SX-70 years later.
Fig. 2.3. 1947 Optical Society demonstration (Wensberg n.p.).
Fig. 2.4. Land with a Polaroid 95 Land camera (Hitchcock 25).
Despite the immediate popularity of instant photography, it did face its share of problems. Many people â€œregarded the new process of instant photography benignly as a novelty, a scientific curiosityâ€? (Wensberg 97). Most professional photographers and artists felt that they would have no use for the medium as a tool for their trade. Land disagreed, and his solution for the problem was simple. He sought out Ansel
Adams, one of the most influential photographers of the time, to aid him in improving Polaroid’s image among professionals. Consequently, Ansel Adams had by 1948 become the first of several artist consultants hired by Land. The assignment was to test cameras, films and related photographic paraphernalia, using them in the field and in the studio. How did the camera function? What could be done to make it better? Would a film capture high-key highlights or would it burn out, leaving no details to be seen? What improvements were needed for the next generation? (Hitchcock 25) Land and Polaroid managed to work through initial issues with instant photography and continued to improve and release new types of film and cameras. Land, however, was not completely satisfied with the camera system that had been created. Technical challenges not foreseen at the conception of his idea, such as print fading and curling, added additional steps to what was supposed to be an instant process (Wensberg 130, 145). Color film was introduced in the early 1960s, and soon after, Land began putting together ideas that would lead to the next stage in instant photography and Polaroid’s biggest invention to date. The file name for this new project was SX-70, “the same file code that had designated the first photographic experiments in 1943” (Wensberg 151). With this new camera system Land wanted to accomplish what he originally had imagined instant photography to be. His original hopes, coupled with his experience with instant photography, now offered new promise for what his invention could now
finally become. Time magazine said in the June 26, 1972 issue, “The new camera eliminates just about all the bugs that annoyed Polaroid owners, including Land, for the past 24 years” (Taubman 81). The old file name SX-70 was now reopened but with a new meaning. The code name SX-70 would now represent “the new camera and film system being developed in the late 60’s (SX) and early 70’s” (Olshaker 201). The code name for the project stuck, and it was decided that the camera system would be called SX-70 upon its release to the public (201).
The SX-70 Land Camera The SX-70, although loosely based upon the same concept as the previous instant cameras and film, was a completely new invention (Olshaker 173). Everything about the camera and the film was different. Since there never had been anything like it, it had to be invented from scratch. The SX-70 camera was “the instant camera Edwin Land wanted to create all along….Everything up until the SX-70 was a compromise” (171). When original development for the SX-70 was underway, Land created a small list of items he wanted the new camera to feature. “His original instructions to his engineers consisted of a small list typed triple-spaced on a single sheet of paper: Compact, Integral, Single-Lens Reflex, Garbage-Free” (Olshaker 172). Land wanted the camera to fit in a coat pocket, “so in a sense, you could say that Dr. Land’s tailor determined the size or the SX-70” (173). Land was said to have given those in charge of design a block of wood about the size of what he thought the camera should be
(173). In fact, some of the initial design ideas were actually worked out with a block of wood as early as 1965 (Fig. 2.5). The initial design seen here bears a great likeness to the final SX-70, which when folded is about 7 x 4 x 1”, or “slightly larger than a standard-sized paperback book” (170). When unfolded, it stands about five inches tall and has rubber bellows, which keep the film protected from light. These bellows fold down inside the camera when it is collapsed for storage. The camera body is made of “chrome-plated plastic” and is covered on the top and bottom with real cowhide leather (Kuhn par. 2). Figure 2.6 shows the original SX-70 camera in both open and collapsed positions, as well as the combination of materials that make up the body.
Fig. 2.5. SX-70 design prototype, 1965 (Sealfon 11).
Fig. 2.6.The Original SX-70 Land camera.
Land wanted the camera to be a single-lens-reflex. This means the camera would compose, focus and expose the film through the same lens. Because of the compact folding design of the camera, a system of mirrors was designed which, when unfolded, were positioned perfectly. Figure 2.7 shows the path that light travels from subject to eye and onto the film. This light path is described precisely in a 1972 film produced for Polaroid by Charles and Ray Eames: The four element lens collects the light which bounces off a permanent mirror to a fine fresnel surface. It bundles the light and reflects it back again to the same mirror. The light leaves the interior of the camera
through two astigmatism correcting slits, bouncing off of an aspheric plastic mirror, which focuses the image in space. It is this image that is seen through the eyepiece, which is itself aspheric. When the picture is taken, the fresnel moves, elevating the taking mirror so that the image that had fallen onto the retina of the photographer’s eye is reflected onto the film. (Eames and Eames)
Fig. 2.7. Light path in the SX-70 (Sealfon 210).
Optics for the lens of the SX-70 “used the cast-plastic technology developed during World War II for Patton’s tank sight to fold light through the internal lenses and mirrors in ingenious ways” (Wensberg 179). The four elements that make up the lens of the camera were so precise that it took a total of three years of human and
computer power to create it (Olshaker 180). The size of the camera and the folding design made this even more difficult to achieve. Each lens face has a different curvature. A small space in front of the fourth, or innermost, element allows room for the movement of the shutter blades. Only the front element moves during focusing. The maximum lens aperture is approximately f/8, and the four elements measure less than three quarters of an inch (1.9cm) from front to back when the front element is extended forward to the closeâ€“up position, only 10.4 inches (26.4cm) from the subject. Indeed, the camera can be folded with the lens in its fully extended position. The range of focus combined with a compact lens, not achieved before, was arrived at by a precise blending of properties, such as the surface curvatures of the lens elements, the chemical composition and thickness of each and the size of the airspace between. (McElheny, Technologies 124-125) The SX-70 hosted an array of advanced micro circuitry for its time, which made it possible to keep the camera body small (Olshaker 179). Hundreds of resistors and transistors within the compact shell of the camera precisely time and control each sequence of events from exposure to film ejection (Eames and Eames). The film is ejected with a powerful 12,000-rpm motor, which moves the film through the rollers once exposure has taken place. The motor was based on the same design as an electric-train engine, which engineers decided on after they â€œinvaded a Boston hobby
shop” (Taubman 81). This same motor moves the fresnel mirror up and down once the shutter has been pushed (Fig. 2.8).
Fig. 2.8. Parts of the SX-70 (Olshaker n.p.).
The film for the SX-70 was also like nothing that had been created before. The fact that it was instant was the only thing that it had in common with the other film types Polaroid had created up to that point. Land wanted the film to be “Integral,” meaning all that was needed for development was inside the picture. This would mean that there would be no peeling off paper, no messy chemicals and, most importantly, no waste to deal with, which had been a problem with past Polaroid film. The problem with this was meant that the film would have to develop without protection from light. Previous Polaroid film was manually pulled through rollers to
spread the necessary chemicals over the film surface and was protected from light until the right time, when the photographer revealed the developed image. With the SX-70, there would be no protective sheet. The image could be seen as it developed from a faint image to a full color image. This was achieved by finding the right chemistry, and “hundreds of chemical coatings, or opacifiers were tried” (Olshaker 176). The winning formula was demonstrated successfully in Land’s private laboratory on November 4, 1969. Fifty Polaroid scientists crowded around Land to watch a sample of film develop under the blinding glare of two sun guns, equal in power to direct sunlight on the summit of Mount Everest. As the photograph began to develop and the opacifier layer gradually turned crystal clear, a momentous cheer is reported to have gone up from the assembled scientists. (177) The process in which the film develops is “based on the migration of dyedeveloper molecules from the various negative layers to the positive” (177). Figure 2.9 shows the many layers that make up an SX-70 print, which is 1/100” thick. The resulting roughly 3 x 3” image appears, sandwiched beneath a plastic protective layer and black backing, which makes up two thirds of the overall film thickness (Eames and Eames). The metallic based dyes give the image a sheen and depth that are given further depth and dimension by the plastic protective covering over the film.
Fig. 2.9. SX-70 film process (Wensberg n.p.).
Even the battery for the SX-70 had to be created from scratch. It was important to Land not only that the camera’s function be simple but also that it removed any possibility of failure. To his thinking, “nothing makes a camera enthusiast lose that enthusiasm as instantly as a Land picture develops as being all set to take a picture, having three or four packs of film ready, and having the battery conk out in the middle of the Grand Canyon” (Olshaker 196). To address this issue, engineers created a four cell, 6-volt battery that was “made like ribbon and cut to size” and placed in the bottom of each film pack (Eames and Eames). The result, a camera that always has fresh batteries for operation neatly tucked in each new pack of film. After 600 million dollars of research and development and thousands of hours of labor, the Polaroid SX-70 camera system was released in 1972. Land told Time magazine shortly before its release, “I think this camera can have the same impact as
the telephone on the way people live” (qtd. in Taubman 81). The October 1972 issue of Life (Fig. 2.10) featured a photograph of Land on the cover taking pictures of children with his new invention. The headline reads, “A Genius and His Magic Camera.” Land was a genius, and he finally had created the camera that he envisioned so many years before.
Fig. 2.10. Land on the cover of Life, Oct. 1972.
The SX-70 as an Artistic Tool From the beginning of his involvement in photography, Edwin Land saw great potential for his instant photographic cameras and film. “Land believed in the innate, creative potential of instant photography and that there were many people with an artistic bent who would love to use it” (Hitchcock 25). In a 1972 Life interview, Land said, Some people feel that the Polaroid camera is strictly an amateur product that does nothing to develop the artistic expression of photography. What I contend is that far from taking creativity away from people, we provide an opportunity for creativity that other photography doesn’t allow. (qtd. in Callahan 48) Not long after the release of the SX-70, many amateurs and professionals alike were using the camera and film to create artistic imagery.
Walker Evans Walker Evans began using the Polaroid SX-70 camera in 1973, “during the last two years of his life…in a peculiarly impulsive and uncontrolled way” (Tormey 10). He had been fairly ill around this time, and “all outward signs suggested that his remarkable career with the camera was a thing of the past” (Rosenheim 5). Evans took numerous portraits with the SX-70. Other subjects included close-up abstract photographs of city street markings on pavement and old signs (Plates 2.1 and 2.2). He would also photograph debris and garbage (Plate 2.3) that he found in gutters and
along the road. Unlike many of the cameras Evans had used during his long career, including a “glass-plate view camera,” the SX-70 was fairly basic (5). Evans even referred to the camera as a toy: I’ve now taken up that little SX-70 camera for fun and become very excited about that little gadget which I thought was just a toy at first. [I was using it] to extend my vision and let that open up new stylistic paths that I haven’t been down yet. That’s one of the peculiar things about it that I unexpectedly discovered. A practiced photographer has an entirely new extension in that camera. You photograph things that you wouldn’t think of photographing before. I don’t even yet know why, but I find I am quite rejuvenated by it …It’s the first time, I think, that you can put a machine in an artist’s hands and have him rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind. (qtd. in McElheny, Insisting 341) With the SX-70, the artist created thousands of images of “things simply as they were, without pretension” (Rosenheim 6). Evans died in April 1974, but for the last years of his life “Polaroid breathed life into the body of a man who had long been denied the daily visceral pleasure of producing meaningful art” (8).
Plate 2.1. Walker Evans, Sign Detail, Marthaâ€™s Vineyard, MA, Oct. 1, 1974 (Rosenheim 106).
Plate 2.2. Walker Evans Sign Detail, Destin, FL, Aug. 12, 1974 (Rosenheim 113).
Plate 2.3. Walker Evans, Crushed Can, 1973-74 (Rosenheim 159).
André Kertész André Kertész began using an SX-70 camera and film in the late 1970s. “The camera was a gift, from musician, photographer, and collector Graham Nash of the famed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” (Gurbo 18). Nash was one of many friends who paid Kertész visits from time to time since old age kept the photographer from getting out much (18). Kertész had become famous earlier in Paris and then New York for his 35mm black-and-white photographs from the streets. Kertész, then in his eighties, had recently lost his wife Elizabeth to lung cancer (Gurbo 12). He was depressed by this, and “it appeared that his energy and creative reserves were gone forever;” he “was admittedly a broken man” (qtd. in Gurbo 16, 12). The loss of his wife and friend of fifty-eight years drove him to stop taking photographs altogether (Lifson 21). His recovery began when he was compelled to buy a small glass bust that he had discovered in the window of Brentano’s bookstore on 8th street and University Place. Initially he resisted the urge to acquire the elegant figure but found he was haunted by it. (qtd. in Gurbo 17) He eventually purchased it because it reminded him of his late wife Elizabeth (Lifson 23). Kertész began creating still lifes with the bust and other objects in his New York City apartment window. He then began photographing the still lifes, first with a 35mm camera and eventually with the Polaroid SX-70. In Plate 2.4, a Polaroid from May 6,1979, the bust is seen with a reflection of the artist and the SX-70 camera in
the background. In Plate 2.5, a sample of the various objects other than the bust that Kertész chose to photograph is seen. Later in this series of Polaroids, a second bust appears (Plate 2.6). In this image, the busts can be seen posed together on the window sill, with the New City York skyline in the background. Kertész liked the ease of shooting with the SX-70 camera, which “allowed him to work quickly and autonomously” (Gurbo 18). He was drawn to the “immediacy and intimacy of the Polaroid process,” and the small scale of the images produced by the SX-70 was reminiscent of work he had done in the past (19). Working with the Polaroid SX-70 ultimately freed Kertész from his depression. The images he created with the Polaroid camera were as luminous and inspirational as many of his earlier works, but this time the process proved even more transcendental. This time he was transformed: a sad old man waiting to die had become one who could not wait for the next click of the camera. (24-25) Kertész died in 1985 at ninety-one years of age, creating photographs until the end “working with both a 35mm camera and the Polaroid SX-70” (25).
Plate 2.4. André Kertész, May 6, 1979 (Gurbo 48).
Plate 2.5. André Kertész, Aug. 29 1982 (Gurbo 121).
Plate 2.6. André Kertész, July 3, 1979 (Gurbo 35).
David Levinthal In 1984, David Levinthal began working again artistically after a nine year stint in a business-related profession (Parry 1). He made the transition from art to business mainly because of “wordless pressure” he felt he was receiving from family members (1). Feeling the call back to his creative side, Levinthal seemed to long for the creative drive that he had felt earlier in his life. He wrote in a journal entry, “‘As I get older the pain becomes more intense; . . . time seems more important, . . . seems to be running out’” (qtd. in Parry 1). Some aspect of his life drove him to address his appetite and longing for creativity. It started without his exactly willing it. One night he took a mat knife and started cutting into shoeboxes, cardboard, and foam core. Joining the pieces at the corners with tape, he began to arrange them to suggest a miniature office, hotel room, pool hall, foyer, or a narrow corridor viewed through a doorway. He was intrigued by what emerged without much conscious direction and by how little he needed to produce an effect. (Parry 2) Before long, Levinthal had created a number of sets and began photographing them, originally with black-and-white film. He then began photographing them with a Polaroid SX-70 camera and film (Parry 24). In an interview with Polaroid about his work, Levinthal said, “The rich, saturated colors that are so unique to Polaroid films create a sense of depth in the work” (Levinthal par. 3). In Plate 2.7, the unique saturated color Polaroid film offered is apparent in the rich reddish glow around the
embracing couple under the streetlight. The SX-70 camera itself was attractive to Levinthal for this series. The SX-70 system ejected from the camera little pictures, each of which was unique. In the early eighties, SX-70, for many, was still something of a hobbyist's instrument. That he used a virtual toy to reproduce his dramas felt completely natural. (Parry 24-25) Levinthal used the ability of the SX-70 to focus closely on the sets he had created. In some situations, he would also use a Polaroid close-up lens attachment, which would bring him in even closer, so close that the “expelled image knocked over the figures“ (Parry 25, 32). He titled the series of Polaroids Modern Romance and worked on it from 1984 to 1986. The series reflected memories the artist recollected of the 1940s and 50s, as well as “issues from his past” and life growing up during those times (2). Dark streets and alleyways, automobiles, late night diners, motels and motel rooms are common themes in the series (Plate 2.8). Also apparent in the series is Levinthal’s obsession “with the secrecy of small spaces” (4) (Plate 2.9). The images in this series are mysterious. This mysteriousness is enhanced by the use of heavy shadows and the shallow depth of field achieved by working with the SX-70 up close. Levinthal's work here is a testament to the artistic possibilities that the SX-70 camera and film could achieve. He continued to create amazing bodies of work after Modern Romance using toys and various types of Polaroid film.
Plate 2.7. David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86 (Parry 63).
Plate 2.8. David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86 (Parry 44).
Plate 2.9. David Levinthal, from Modern Romance, 1984-86 (Parry 108).
Elizabeth Soule Elizabeth Soule, a Portland-based artist, started working with the SX-70 in 2007 and continues to work with the camera today to produce artistic imagery. The artist “likes the simplicity of the camera and its few controls” (Soule par. 3). Unlike digital photography, with which she is “too quick to push the shutter,” shooting with a Polaroid requires her to slow down and take time to compose (par. 1). Like Levinthal in the early 1980s, Soule chose small toys as her photographic subjects. In a series titled The Little Zoo, she places small animal figures in minimal, often brightly colored backgrounds or patterns that enshroud the figure. Soule began the series “out of a frustration for not being able to devote time to the darkroom and the need to make pictures” (Soule par. 7). She had received an animal figurine from a friend as a gift and began photographing it, and later “started to take trips to the toy shop, buying animals by the dozens (par. 7). Some of the artist’s images hint at the small scale of the figure (Plate 2.10). In others, the figure interacts with the environment (Plate 2.11). In many of the images, the figure merely exists in the colorful environment, not necessarily interacting with it (Plate 2.12). Soule says about working with Polaroid film: I love the instant gratification of a Polaroid, the vivid and slightly off color palette, and that there is no cropping, what you saw in the viewfinder is close to what your picture is [sic]. (par. 1) Like Levinthal’s work, vivid colors offered by Polaroid film and shallow depth of field are key components to the overall feel of the work. The foregrounds
and backgrounds fall out of focus, while the subject remains sharp and in focus, drawing the viewerâ€™s eye in. Because film is no longer produced for the SX-70, Soule uses Polaroid 600 film, which is similar in many ways to SX-70 film. To enable her SX-70 camera to work with this different film, Soule has used one of several conversion methods available to enable her to continue creating artistic imagery with the SX-70.
Plate 2.10. Elizabeth Soule, Owl on Page, 2007 (used by permission).
Plate 2.11. Elizabeth Soule, Ostrich, 2007 (used by permission).
Plate 2.12. Elizabeth Soule, Rabbit, 2008 (used by permission).
Grant Hamilton Another contemporary artist who uses the Polaroid SX-70 for their work is Grant Hamilton. Hamilton, an Iowa City-based artist uses an SX-70 to create colorful abstract geometric images (Hamilton, “Speartalks” par. 14). His subject matter is often the unseen or the “mundane” captured from the sides of old signage, buildings, vehicles and various other objects (par. 14) (Plate 2.13). Similar in many ways to Walker Evans’ Polaroids of signs and roadways, Hamilton gets in close to his subjects in order to abstract a specific portion of the whole. By getting in close, imperfections of the subject can be seen, and scratched or peeling paint links subjects to a greater whole. Plate 2.14, for example, was captured from a painted refrigerator door. Hamilton likes the “technical challenge of trying to perfectly align the elements of the photo and also the scavenger hunt for subjects” (Hamilton, “Speartalks” par. 14). Many of his subjects are outside his front door, but some come from other parts of the world that he visits. I think for some people it does give too much context but, for many of the photos, there is a story behind it, or it was shot in some exotic location. It’s funny to tell people that some of my photos came from Italy or Vietnam. (par. 16) The colors from Hamilton’s subjects beautifully saturate with the Polaroid film that he uses and the resulting image is an array of colorful curves, points, lines and angles (Plate 2.15). The borders of the Polaroid “add some context and charm to
the finished photo,” which contain the geometric shapes like a small puzzle (Hamilton, “Interview” par. 7). Like Soule, Hamilton also works with a converted SX-70 camera. By converting his camera to use Polaroid 600 film, Hamilton is able to use the SX-70 as a tool for creating his artistic geometric images.
Plate 2.13. Grant Hamilton, Winnebago, 2008 (used by permission).
Plate 2.14. Grant Hamilton, Smile, 2008 (used by permission).
Plate 2.15. Grant Hamilton, New Mexico, 2007 (used by permission).
These artists and many others have found in the SX-70 and Polaroid film a creative means that would not have been available to them had Edwin Land not been so driven to create it. Enhancing “the creative potential of the individual” with instant photography was his ultimate goal (Olshaker 9). “By removing both technical and temporal barriers, Land feels that the picture-taker is put in a truer and more direct relationship with his subject” (9). With the creation of instant photography and then the SX-70, Land provided not only amateurs but professional photographers and artists with a unique tool for creativity which had not been available to them before. In recent years, the onset of digital technology has lessened the demand for instant cameras and film in the amateur market. This digital revolution will most likely mean the eventual end of instant photography entirely. Unfortunately, the artists and professionals who still use Polaroid film and cameras for creative purposes will suffer the most. In 2005, Polaroid announced that it would stop producing SX-70 film. This announcement threatened to place the SX-70 on a dusty shelf full of memories. Upon this announcement, many photographers and artists able to see the creative potential of the SX-70 camera began finding ways to convert the camera to use another type of Polaroid film still available. Polaroid 600 film is, for the meantime, still in production. Polaroid 600 film is similar to SX-70 film but will not work in the SX-70 camera for several reasons discussed below. But by addressing these reasons with various conversion techniques available, 600 film will work in the SX-70 camera. Artists like Elizabeth Soule and Grant Hamilton previously discussed have used such
conversions. These and other techniques available enable the SX-70 camera to still be used a tool for creating artistic imagery.
Chapter 3: Methods
The SX-70 camera is a valuable instrument for creating artistic imagery. In order to use the SX-70 camera today, since specific film for the camera has been discontinued, conversions to the camera need to take place. These conversions allow the camera to use another type of film that is still available. By applying these conversions, photographers and artists will be able to use the unique aspects of the SX-70 camera and Polaroid film to create artistic imagery. Polaroid 600 film is similar to SX-70 film in many ways but will not work in the SX-70 camera for two reasons. First, 600 film has four nubs on the bottom of each film pack which prevent it from being loaded into the wrong camera. These nubs catch on a guard that is inside the SX-70 camera to prevent it from being loaded with non-SX-70 film. The second difference is in the film speed. The original film speed or ISO of the film produced for the SX-70 camera was 150. The film speed or ISO of Polaroid 600 film is 640, slightly more than two stops, or four times faster, than the original film. If Polaroid 600 film is loaded into the SX-70 camera with no conversions to make up for this difference, the resulting image will be roughly two stops overexposed. There are seven conversion methods discussed below that allow Polaroid 600 film to be used in the SX-70 camera. Two of these involve loading the film in the camera, and five involve making up for the 2-stop film speed difference. The two methods that involve loading the film are 1) nub removal and 2) guard bypass. The
five that involve making up the film speed difference â€“ and that were used to create a series of test images â€“ are 1) 2-stop Neutral Density (ND) filter, 2) photocell ND filter, 3) film pack filter, 4) photocell override and 5) electronic modification. Each of these five conversions was used to create three images, for a total of fifteen images. The resulting images are analyzed, and the benefits and drawbacks of the conversion method employed, discussed.
Nub Removal 1. Remove the film pack from the box. 2. Turn the film pack bottom side up. 3. Cut off the four plastic nubs from bottom. 4. Load the film normally into the film slot.
The first conversion method, nub removal, involves removing the four plastic nubs on the bottom of the Polaroid 600 film pack, which prevent it from being loaded into the SX-70 camera (Fig. 3.1). To do this conversion, remove the film pack from the box. Place the film pack bottom side up to reveal the four plastic nubs. With a razor, knife or sharp edge, trim the nubs off so that the edge of the film pack is smooth (Hanft par. 13). If needed, additional trimming can be done to smooth the edge to prevent it from catching on the guard inside the camera. Once the nubs are removed, the film pack will slide easily into the SX-70 camera body.
Fig. 3.1. Nub removal method.
Guard Bypass 1. Remove the film pack from the box. 2. Place film instruction sheet (included with film) over the plastic nubs. 3. Leave roughly 1/2" of the sheet in front of leading edge of film pack. 4. Load the film into the film slot. 5. Once film is beyond the guard in the camera, slide out the instruction sheet. 6. Push the film pack the rest of the way in.
The second conversion method, guard bypass, involves placing a flat surface over the four plastic nubs to bypass the guard, which normally catches on the nubs to prevent the wrong type of film from being loaded (Fig.3.2). To do this conversion, remove the film from the packaging. Each film pack comes with an instruction sheet
for the film, folded is slightly smaller than the size of the film pack. Place the instruction sheet over the plastic nubs on the bottom of the film pack, with about a 1/2" of the sheet extending beyond the leading edge of the film pack. Slide the film into the film slot on the SX-70 camera body with the instructions entering first. Once the film pack has passed the guard in the camera (roughly halfway), slide the instructions out from under the film pack. The film pack should now slide easily the remainder of the way into the camera.
Fig.3.2. Guard bypass method.
The instruction sheet is a great option for this conversion because it comes with every film pack so should always be available. Another option is to use an old film pack dark slide, a piece of card cut to fit or an old Polaroid image (Hanft par.
14). If an old Polaroid image is used, make sure it is an unwanted image, as the process can scratch the image surface.
2-Stop ND Filter 1. Create a template of the circumference of the inner portion of the lens. 2. Tape the template to a 2-stop ND lens gel filter. 3. Cut the filter out using a small grinder. 4. Fit the filter in the inner portion of the lens. 5. Mount the filter with a piece of adhesive or tape.
This conversion method is the least complicated of the methods for making up for the difference in film speeds between the Polaroid 600 film and the original film for the SX-70 camera. It requires placing a 2-stop ND filter over the lens of the SX70 camera. â€œThese filters are color balanced to reduce the light by absorbing equal amounts of all parts of the light reflecting from the scene (Rand and Litschel 177). Since the lens on an SX-70 camera is so small and has no threading to enable a filter to be mounted on the front, a filter must be made to fit. Hanft discusses a way to take apart a standard 28mm ND filter, and with some glue, it can be mounted on the lens (par. 10). A cleaner, reversible solution is to cut a filter from an ND lens gel. ND lens gels are made from a thin, hard, optically clear material that can be purchased from a camera store. These gels normally come in square sheets, for example 3 x 3â€?, and should not be confused with photographic lighting gels, which
are made from a thin acrylic material and come in large sheets or rolls for placing over photographic lighting. To do this conversion, a template of the filter size needs to be created. This template can then be used to cut the correct filter size out of the ND lens gel (Fig. 3.3). After measuring the diameter of the inner portion of the lens, use a compass to draw a circle of the desired circumference on a piece of thin cardstock or paper. Once the template is created, check its fit on the camera lens and trim if necessary. The template should be cut so that it fits inside the area just smaller than the edge portion of the lens (Fig. 3.4).
Fig.3.3. Lens ND template.
Fig. 3.4. Lens filter size.
Once the template fits in the area discussed above, the filter needs to be cut. Safety goggles are a good idea when cutting the filter since small pieces of the material can be projected upward. Also, take care not to scratch the surface of the gel when cutting it out. With a piece of double stick tape, position the template on a portion of the gel. Using the corner of the gel will allow for additional filters to be cut later or provide backup if an error occurs during cutting. A 3 x 3â€? gel can usually supply four or five filters. Since the material of the gel is fairly brittle, cutting the filter with a blade is not an option. Instead use a small grinder or sander disc to shape the filter. A Dremel tool is perfect since it is ideal for small precise jobs and usually comes with a plethora of small discs that can be used to cut the filter. With the grinder, shape the filter from the gel around the template. The double stick tape should prevent the template from sliding around during cutting. Once this is done,
remove the template from the surface of the gel. Assure that the gel fits in the desired spot shown in Figure 3.4 above and trim if necessary. To attach the filter to the lens of the SX-70, a small adhesive mount ring needs to be created that will hold the filter in place (Fig. 3.5). This will also allow the filter to be removed later if desired. The adhesive mount ring can be created with a piece of tape or any one-sided adhesive. For the present study, a piece of vinyl from a sign shop was used. Glue is not advised since it most likely will not come off easily if desired later on. Cut the adhesive so that it barely overlaps the edge of the lens and the edge of the filter. Position the filter on the adhesive mount ring and then into position over the lens (Fig. 3.6).
Fig. 3.5. Adhesive filter mount ring.
Fig. 3.6. SX-70 with and without filter.
With the 2-stop ND filter in place, exposure of the Polaroid 600 film with the SX-70 camera should be close. The film will still be slightly overexposed but can be adjusted for with the light/dark control on the camera. (see Fig. 2.8). By moving the light/dark control half a line or one line into the dark setting, a proper exposure should be possible.
Photocell ND Filter 1. Remove the photocell retaining ring on the front of the SX-70. 2. Remove the 1-stop ND filter over the photocell. 3. Replace it with a similar, clear plastic filter. 4. Reattach the filter-retaining ring. 5. Repeat steps in previous conversion but using a 1-stop ND filter.
To complete this conversion, remove the 1-stop ND filter that is over the photocell (Hanft par. 4). The photocell of the SX-70 camera (see Fig.2.8) determines the exposure of the film depending on the brightness of the scene (par. 4). Its retaining ring can be removed with a small knife or sharp edge. Once it is out, tip the camera slightly face down and the photocell ND filter will fall out. Using the photocell ND filter as a template, cut a similar sized filter out of a clear piece of plastic (Hanft, par. 6) (Fig. 3.7). It may be necessary to bevel the edges of the clear filter to enable it to better fit below the retaining ring. Replace the new clear filter over the photocell and attach the retaining ring.
Fig. 3.7. Mount ring and filters for photocell.
The camera will now sense that there is 1-stop more light coming into the photocell, which it will compensate for by speeding up the shutter. Since 600 film is
2-stops faster than original SX-70 film, 1-stop is still not accounted for. This next step requires following the same steps as in the 2-Stop ND Filter conversion. Instead of using a 2-stop ND filter lens gel, use a 1-stop ND filter lens gel. The combination of removing the 1-stop ND filter from the photocell and placing a 1-stop ND filter over the lens will account for 2-stops difference between Polaroid 600 film and the original SX-70 film. Again, the film will still be slightly overexposed but can be adjusted for with the light/dark control on the camera (see Fig. 2.8). By moving the light/dark control half a line or one line into the dark setting, a proper exposure should be possible.
Film Pack Filter 1. Print a template of the film pack filter with a printer. 2. Place a 2-stop ND gel over the template and tape it down. 3. Cut out the filter using the template. 4. Install the filter on top of the film pack above the dark slide before loading. 5. Load the film.
This conversion method requires making a 2-stop ND filter that will fit over the entire Polaroid 600 film surface (Johnson par. 3). The first step requires creating the filter. To do so, a template must be printed on a piece of paper that the filter will be cut from (Fig. 3.8). It is best to position the template in the middle of the piece of paper to allow room to tape it down.
Fig. 3.8. Pack filter template.
Once the template is printed, position a sheet of 2-stop ND gel over the template and fasten it with some tape (Fig.3.9). The gel used for this conversion method is the acrylic type that comes in large sheets or rolls and is used for photographic lighting. Using a ruler or straight edge, cut the filter out using a sharp razor blade like an X-Acto knife (Fig. 3.10) Be careful to cut the filter as precisely as possible so it will fit neatly in the film pack.
Fig. 3.9. 2-stop ND gel sheet.
Fig. 3.10. Cutout pack filter with dimensions.
Once the filter is cut, lightly dust the film pack filter to remove fingerprints and dust as these could potentially show up on the finished image. With the square opening of the film pack facing up, slide the film pack into place over the dark slide (Fig. 3.11). The film pack filter should lay fairly flat. If necessary, make additional cuts on the flaps to allow the film pack to fit more precisely. The flaps on the film pack filter keep the filter in place as the dark slide and each exposure is ejected from the camera.
Fig. 3.11. Mounted pack filter.
Now the film can be loaded in the camera. As in the previous two conversions, the film will still be slightly overexposed but can be adjusted for with the light/dark control on the camera. (see Fig. 2.8). By moving the light/dark control half a line or one line into the dark setting, a proper exposure should be possible.
Photocell Override 1. Acquire a 1” PVC, 90° elbow fitting. 2. Fit a mirror at a 45° angle inside the fitting to reflect light at a 90° angle. 3. Fit the PVC elbow on the end of a snoot. 3. Fit the snoot onto a light source with a rheostat. 4. Determine exposure. 5. Using an incident meter, take a light reading from inside the PVC fitting and adjust to expose for Polaroid 600 film. 6. Reflect the light into the photocell of the SX-70. 7. Increase or decrease the intensity of the light source with the rheostat to change exposure.
The photocell of the SX-70 is the light meter of the camera. It is responsible for gathering the light reflected from a scene and determining exposure. The SX-70 film created for Polaroid by Charles and Ray Eames describes how the photocell works: As the lens shutter starts to open, so does the shutter in front of the photocell. The ambient light passes through the photocell lens, past the shutter blades and strikes the photocell mounted on the main circuit board. The blades continue to open until light reaching the cell builds up enough voltage to trigger the shutter solenoid. The blades rush to
the close position and the motor is signaled to start the processing cycle. (Eames and Eames) The SX-70 has a “variable aperture from f/8 to f/74” and a “variable shutter from 1/180 to 14 seconds” (Sealfon 211). Since the blades on both the lens and photocell gradually slide open at the same time, the brighter the scene, the less light the photocell lets in and the smaller the aperture opening becomes, down to f/74. The darker the scene, the more light the photocell lets in and the larger the lens aperture opening becomes, up to f/8. Besides minor adjustments that can be made with the light/dark control, the camera determines both aperture and shutter speeds during exposure. Overriding the photocell simply involves tricking it into thinking that there is more or less light being reflected from a scene, which would trigger the shutter accordingly. In this case, since Polaroid 600 film is roughly two stops or four times faster than original SX-70 film, the camera needs to be tricked into closing the shutter two stops faster than it would if it were receiving light from the actual scene. For this conversion, a controllable, continuous light source on a rheostat must be employed. A rheostat allows for a light sources intensity to be controlled. (In this study, a Photogenic 115 volt, 150 watt Minispot on a light stand was used as the light source.) Attached to the light is a small snoot with a diameter of 1 1/4”. A snoot “is a tube attached to the front of a lamp housing to narrow its beam” (London, et al. 262). Attached to the end of the snoot is a 1”, white, 90° PVC elbow. PVC elbows are used as connector pieces to change flow direction in water systems and can be purchased at
any hardware store. The PVC diameter opening of the 1” elbow is 1 3/8”, just large enough to accept the end of the snoot inside of it. Inside the elbow, a mirror is placed at a 45° angle (Fig.3.12).
Fig. 3.12. PVC elbow light reflector.
The purpose of this set up is to create a light source that can be shown into the photocell of the camera. Since the photocell is on the front of the camera near the lens (see Fig. 2.8), the PVC elbow with mirror at a 45° angle and snoot allow the light source to be out from in front of the lens to make shooting possible (Fig. 3.13).
Fig. 3.13. Photocell override setup.
Now that the set up is complete, determine the exposure for the scene with an incident light meter. Take an incident light meter reading inside the PVC fitting as well, and adjust the intensity of the light with the rheostat to desired setting. Place the PVC fitting with the reflective light in front of the photocell, keeping in mind not to place it in view of the lens. Take an exposure. If the image is too dark, decrease the intensity of the light, which will cause a longer exposure. If the image is too light, increase the intensity of the light, which will cause a shorter exposure. Once an exposure gives an acceptable image, the light/dark wheel can be used for minor adjustments.
Electronic Modification 1. Open the SX-70 camera. 2. Remove the four TORX head screws from the back of the lens board with a T5 TORX screwdriver. 3. Pull the lens board away from the body of the camera, exposing the circuit board. 4. Unsolder the left side pins that hold the board down. 5. Unsolder the old capacitor. 6. Flex the circuit board away from the lens board enough to expose the capacitor and remove it. 7. Insert a smaller value pF (picofarads) capacitor and solder it in place. 8. Re-assemble camera and test exposure.
The most complicated of all the conversion methods is electronic modification because it requires taking the SX-70 camera apart. Once the camera is apart, the capacitor responsible for the shutter and exposure must be unsoldered and replaced. To govern exposure, a photocell receives light during exposure through a small opening in the shutter blades and a specially designed lens and counts photons until a number known to be sufficient has been recorded by charging a capacitor. Then the circuitry sends a signal to close the shutter. (McElheny, Technologies 126) A capacitor is an electronic circuit device for temporary storage of electrical energy. To convert the SX-70 camera to expose properly for Polaroid 600 film, a
capacitor with a lesser value needs to replace the one that is currently in the camera (Tyner par. 3). The capacitor in the original SX-70 camera is roughly 1000pF (par. 3). The letters pF stand for picofarads, or one trillionth of a farad. Since the capacitors that Polaroid put in the SX-70 cameras vary in value, it is necessary to determine the value of the current capacitor. The value is coded on the side of the capacitor, and by using the formula a x 10b, the value can be determined. The value of the capacitor removed from the SX-70 camera used in this study was 921K. According to the formula, a=92 and b=1. Thus, this capacitor was determined to be a 920pF capacitor. It was replaced with one with a value of 151K. According to the formula, a=15 and b=1. Thus, this capacitor was determined to be a 150pF capacitor (Fig. 3.14).
Fig. 3.14. Capacitors used in conversion.
Another value on the side of the capacitor is the voltage value. The capacitor removed from the SX-70 camera used in this study was 200V. The voltage value of
the capacitor replaced was 1000V. The voltage value of the new capacitor does not matter as long as it is as large or larger than that of the original. The first step to changing the capacitor is to expose the circuit board. To do this, first open the camera. On the back of the lens board on either side of the camera are 4 TORX screws (Fig. 3.15). Remove these screws with a TORX screwdriver (Tyner par. 4). The screws on the test camera required a T5 TORX screwdriver but this may vary from camera to camera. Be careful not to tear the rubber bellows or drop the screws down into the camera. Once the screws have been removed, the lens board will pull away from the body of the camera but will still be attached by the power cable (Fig. 3.16).
Fig. 3.15. TORX screws on the SX-70.
Fig. 3.16. The SX-70 circuit board.
On the back of the lens board is the circuit board (Fig. 3.16). Now that the circuit board is exposed, several spots on the top left side of the board need to be unsoldered (Fig. 3.17) to allow the board to lift up enough to reveal the capacitor on the front (opposite side of visible) of the circuit board (Tyner par. 4). Be careful while unsoldering these spots so the traces on the board do not lift off. Once the spots are unsoldered, bend the pins back just enough to allow the board to move beyond them.
Fig. 3.17. Unsolder points for conversion.
Now unsolder the two connecting points of the old capacitor (Fig. 3.18). Lift the circuit board slightly from the lower left corner, and the capacitor will appear on the opposite side (Tyner par. 4). Be careful not to flex the board more than needed, as it could break. Remove the old capacitor. If the old capacitor is not loose, it may be necessary to unsolder more and lightly pull on it at the same time with a pair of tweezers. Trim the leads off of the new capacitor (Fig. 3.14) to the same lengths as on the original capacitor. Flex the circuit board back, guide the capacitor in place and resolder the two connection points of the capacitor on the top side of the board.
Fig. 3.18. Capacitor unsolder points.
Now that the capacitor is in place, bend the pins on the top left side back to position and re-solder the connection points that were unsoldered to allow the board to flex. Mount the lens board back in place and replace the four TORX screws. Each Polaroid SX-70 camera capacitor requirement will be slightly different, but a 150pF capacitor is a good starting point (Tyner par. 13). By changing the capacitor in the SX-70 to a lesser value, the exposure circuit is shortened, thus speeding up the shutter speed. The Polaroid 600 film will now properly expose. If the resulting images taken with the converted SX-70 camera are too dark or underexposed, a greater than 150pF value capacitor could be installed. If the resulting
images are too bright or overexposed, a lesser than 150pF value capacitor can be installed. If exposure is close however, the easiest solution is to use the light/dark control to compensate.
The Polaroid SX-70 Land camera has been in the past and still is a unique tool for creating artistic imagery. Since film for the camera is no longer available, using one or more of these seven conversion methods makes it possible to continue to create artistic imagery with the camera using the available Polaroid 600 film. By using the nub removal and guard bypass methods, the film is able to be loaded into the camera. By using the 2-stop ND filter, photocell ND filter, film pack filter, photocell override or electronic modification methods, Polaroid 600 film is able to be properly exposed in the camera. Since the last five methods affect proper exposure of the film and image making, they have been applied and tested by creating a series of artistic images.
Chapter 4: Results
Lost in Reverie is a series of Polaroid images shot using various conversion methods of the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera. The images are based on daydreams or thoughts of mine. They span my entire life, from childhood memories up to the present. Many of them deal with pleasant subject matter or influences. Some represent unrealistic fears or thoughts that have plagued me from time to time in the thirty-three years of my life thus far. Some are merely perceptions of the world around me, how I see it or wish it were. Many of the images contain numerous ideas and are symbolic. Each represent a unique piece that makes up the whole of who I am, how I think and my creative thought process. The Polaroid SX-70 camera and film was the perfect tool for this series. Each image was created from a miniature set that had been crafted specifically for photographing with the SX-70 camera, for â€œthe fact that the SX-70 is at its best with small, close scenes and that the picture actually develops in full view give[s] a sense of intimacy between photographer and subject that has never before been possibleâ€? (Olshaker 236). It is a closeness and intimacy that is further enhanced by the images produced. Each is a unique interpretation of my thoughts, and the small size of the resulting image emphasizes the intimacy of the subject matter. The white, almost frame like border surrounding each image, creates a capsule for the thought to be viewed. The unique color and saturation offered by Polaroid film enhances this dreamlike subject matter even more.
I felt the same intimacy shooting with the SX-70 camera system that was expressed by the artists I discussed, past and present. The SX-70 camera has been and continues to be a creative tool for creating fine art imagery.
Lost in Reverie
Plate 4.1. Carrier
Title: Carrier Plate: 4.1 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: 2-Stop ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/80 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Two large windows, 90째 camera left
Plate 4.2. Wanderlust
Plate: 4.2 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: 2-Stop ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/25 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with Rosco #3202 gel; Lowell Tota above set with Rosco #3202 gel, through P-22 diffusion panel
Plate 4.3. The Captain
Title: The Captain
Plate: 4.3 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: 2-Stop ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/13 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with Rosco #3202 gel; light with Rosco #3304 gel behind subject; reflector right of subject
2-Stop ND Filter: Advantages & Disadvantages This conversion method was applied to create “Carrier” (Plate 4.1), “Wanderlust” (Plate 4.2) and “The Captain” (Plate 4.3). This is the easiest of all the conversion methods to enable the SX-70 camera to use Polaroid 600 film. It is as simple as placing a 2-stop ND filter over the lens of the SX-70. The process described in Chapter 3, is slightly more difficult because it involves creating a filter that will fit the SX-70 camera more precisely, allowing it to fold down with the filter in place. A bulkier filter crudely attached to the lens board will work but will also need to be removed before folding the camera down. Advantages: This conversion method is simple to complete and allows the artist to begin shooting quickly with the SX-70. The method produces good exposures with no apparent affect on image quality. All of the images only needed a slight adjustment of 1/2-stop to dark with the light/dark control to achieve a proper exposure. Disadvantages: The main drawback of using this conversion method is that it makes focusing a challenge in low light situations. The SX-70 camera is already a difficult camera to focus because beyond the center of the viewfinder, it appears slightly blurry due to the curvature of the mirror that reflects the scene. It is even more difficult when trying to focus at close proximity with low light. When a 2-stop ND filter is over the lens, this becomes almost impossible because it darkens the viewfinder. To help with focusing, an additional light was sometimes shown on the scenes photographed with this conversion method and then, after achieving focus,
turned off. In “Wanderlust” (Plate 4.2) and “The Captain” (Plate 4.3), the subjects were basically in the middle of the viewfinder, which made focusing slightly less difficult. But in “Carrier” (Plate 4.1), however, the subject is in the lower right hand corner. This added another element of difficulty, as the subject was not in the center of the viewfinder.
Plate 4.4. Childhood
Plate: 4.4 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/15 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with Rosco #3202 gel
Plate 4.5. Daydream
Plate: 4.5 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/40 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera right, with Rosco #3202 gel
Plate 4.6. Mother
Plate: 4.6 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell ND Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/10 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with two Rosco #3202 gels
Photocell ND Filter: Advantages & Disadvantages This conversion method was applied to create “Childhood” (Plate 4.4), “Daydream” (Plate 4.5) and “Mother” (Plate 4.6). This is also a fairly simple conversion, though slightly more involved than merely placing a 2-stop ND filter over the lens since the ND filter over the photocell has to be removed and replaced with similar piece of clear plastic. Advantages: Like the 2-stop ND filter, this is a fairly easy way to begin using the SX-70. The resulting images are clear and well exposed. Each of the images made with this conversion only needed an additional 1/2-stop to the dark with the light/dark control to achieve a proper exposure with the Polaroid 600 film. Disadvantages: Like the 2-stop ND filter conversion method, the photocell ND filter method also involves adding a ND filter over the lens. Although not as difficult as the 2-stop ND filter, the 1-stop ND filter over the lens in this conversion does make focusing a challenge. Yet this was only an issue with “Daydream” (Plate 4.5) since the subject is not in the center of the viewfinder and is also very small. Removing the ND over the photocell was fairly simple, but scratching of the camera and retaining ring is possible. Once the filter is removed, creating one out of a similar piece of plastic is fairly difficult. I first tried making one out a CD jewel case but found it was too thick, and the retaining ring would not fit down inside the camera. I then used a thinner piece of plastic. It would not fit down in the camera either. To solve this, I had to bevel the edges of the clear filter so it would fit in completely. Once the filter fit into place, the conversion method worked well.
Plate 4.7. Bonneville
Plate: 4.7 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Film Pack Filter Light/Dark Control: No adjustment Subject Meter Reading: 1/2 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with Rosco #3204 gel; reflector 90째 camera right
Plate 4.8. Rooftops
Title: Rooftops Plate: 4.8 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Film Pack Filter Light/Dark Control: No adjustment Meter Reading: 14 sec @ f/8 Set Lighting: Window, camera left at dusk
Plate 4.9. Manicured Garden
Title: Manicured Garden
Plate: 4.9 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Film Pack Filter Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to light Meter Reading: 1/15 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left, with Rosco #3208 gel; slide projector behind set shown onto P22 diffusion panel
Film Pack Filter: Advantages & Disadvantages This conversion method was applied to create “Bonneville” (Plate 4.7), “Rooftops” (Plate 4.8) and “Manicured Garden” (Plate 4.9). This method involves placing a 2-stop ND gel filter over the entire pack of film. The resulting images with this conversion seemed to have good exposure Advantages: The benefit of this conversion method is that the ND filter is not over the lens but over the film. Darkening the viewfinder and – thus, focusing – is now not an issue. Also, the original appearance and equipment is still intact since nothing needs to be attached or removed from the SX-70 camera itself for this conversion. The images seem well exposed. In fact, no adjustment with the light/dark control was made on either “Bonneville” (Plate 4.7) or “Rooftops” (Plate 4.8). “Manicured Garden” (Plate 4.9) was adjusted 1/2-stop to light on the light/dark control to brighten some dark areas in the grass. Disadvantages: The film pack filter for this conversion method is difficult and time consuming to make. If the filter is not cut precisely, it will not fit in the film pack correctly and can be ejected from the camera or leak light around the edges of the filter onto the film. While shooting “Manicured Garden” (Plate 4.9), the film pack was ejected from the camera along with the image. This can potentially jam the camera, damage the image and leave the remaining film with no ND in place. To solve this involves going into a dark room, removing the film pack with the remaining film and loading the dark slide and film pack filter back into place. This is not an easy task. Although it does not happen often, it is still a potential problem.
Another drawback to this method is that the film pack filter needs to be reinstalled each time a new pack of film is loaded. This step does not take very long but can interrupt shooting especially when a speedy reload is desired. The biggest drawback to this method is that the film pack filter needs to be cleaned every time before loading. Fingerprints and dust can cling to the material, and dust especially will show up in the resulting images as little dark spots. Using an anti static dust cloth will usually remove most dust, but some always seems to remain. Since both “Bonneville” (Plate 4.7) and “Rooftops” (Plate 4.8) are both fairly dark images, these spots did not appear. “Manicured Garden” (Plate 4.9), however, has a light sky, and some of these spots can be seen on the right side of the image. Additionally, if the film pack filter bends or creases during loading, the crease, like dust, will also show up in the images because it interrupts the light falling on the film.
Plate 4.10. Trapped
Plate: 4.10 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell Override Light/Dark Control: No adjustment Meter Reading: 1/20 @ f/8 (Reflector 1/5 @ f/8) Set Lighting: Minispot, 90째 camera right, with two Rosco #3202 gels
Plate 4.11. Beautiful Waste
Title: Beautiful Waste
Plate: 4.11 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell Override Light/Dark Control: No adjustment Meter Reading: 1/30 @ f/8 (Reflector 1/6 @ f/8) Set Lighting: Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera right, with Rosco #3202 gel
Plate 4.12. Minimalist
Title: Minimalist Plate: 4.12 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Nub Removal Conversion: Photocell Override Light/Dark Control: 1 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/3200 @ f/8 (Reflector 1/2000 @ f/8) Set Lighting: Full sun, 180째 behind camera
Photocell Override: Advantages & Disadvantages This conversion method was applied to create “Trapped” (Plate 4.10), “Beautiful Waste” (Plate 4.11) and “Minimalist” (Plate 4.12). This conversion method involves shining a light source into the photocell of the SX-70 to trick it into making a correct exposure for Polaroid 600 film. Advantages: The biggest benefit of this conversion is that no ND filter is over the lens of the camera, so the viewfinder remains bright for focusing. Also, the exposure can be completely controlled by the light source without using the light/dark control at all, so even more fine tuning of exposure is possible. “Trapped” (Plate 4.10) and “Beautiful Waste” (Plate 4.11) both used the adjustment of the light source with the rheostat to obtain a perfect exposure. No additional light/dark adjustments needed to be made. Disadvantages: Unfortunately the drawbacks of this method outweigh the benefits by quite a bit. The first drawback for this conversion is making the equipment to enable the conversion to work. Fixing the mirror inside the PVC elbow at a 45° angle was fairly difficult and time consuming. The second drawback of this conversion is the need for a power source for the light on a rheostat. Since “Trapped” (Plate 4.10) and “Beautiful Waste” (Plate 4.11) were shot in a studio setting, this was not a problem. “Minimalist” (Plate 4.12), however, was shot outside and required about fifty feet of extension cord to reach the set up. Also for this image, I had to adjust the light/dark control to 1 1/2-stops to the
dark, since the light source was at full power and the resulting image was still too light. The third drawback of this conversion was finding the correct exposure. I initially thought that it would be fairly simple. I thought that the light source could be metered just inside the PVC fitting and adjusted to compensate for the 2-stop difference to expose the faster film in the camera accordingly. But there were several things I did not take into consideration. First, because of the size differences of the openings of the PVC elbow and photocell, the amount of light metered with the incident meter and the light that actually reached to photocell were quite different. Also, the camera is designed to take an average reading of the light in a scene and expose accordingly. The white inside of the PVC elbow made the camera expose faster than it would in a normal scene since the camera reads it as an entirely white scene. I also was not aware of the broad range of apertures and shutter speeds that the camera is capable of. A combination of these issues made it impossible to know the exact intensity of the light source for a proper exposure. The conversion method does work, but it is a trial and error process, and that means test shots are needed to find the proper exposure. Since Polaroid 600 film is expensive, this can be a costly process. For the present study, it took three to four test shots to get the proper exposure for each of the three images shot with this conversion.
Plate 4.13. Father
Plate: 4.13 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Guard Bypass Conversion: Electronic Modification Light/Dark Control: 1/2-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/10 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera left with 2 Rosco #3202 gel
Plate 4.14. Battersea
Plate: 4.14 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Guard Bypass Conversion: Electronic Modification Light/Dark Control: 1-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/40 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Minispot with snoot, 90째 camera right, with Rosco #3202 gel
Plate 4.15. Swimming
Plate: 4.15 Film: Polaroid 600 Load Method: Guard Bypass Conversion: Electronic Modification Light/Dark Control: 1-stop to dark Meter Reading: 1/20 @ f/8 Set Lighting: Diffused Minispot with snoot, camera left, with Rosco #3202 gel
Electronic Modification, Advantages & Disadvantages This conversion method was applied to create “Father” (Plate 4.13), “Battersea” (Plate 4.14) and “Swimming” (Plate 4.15). The electronic modification conversion method involves changing the camera’s capacitor, which is responsible for the speed of the shutter. Advantages: This conversion method involves no ND filters over the lens or film, and no light source shining into the photocell. The viewfinder is bright, allowing for easier composing and focusing of the scene. The exposures were also accurate. “Father” (Plate 4.13) required 1/2 stop to the dark with the light/dark control, and both “Battersea” (Plate 4.14) and “Swimming” (Plate 4.15) required 1-stop to the dark. Disadvantages: This is a fairly difficult conversion to complete and requires patience. Since the circuit board of the SX-70 is over thirty years old, it can become brittle and break when flexing it to remove and replace the capacitor. Also, some soldering skills are needed to unsolder the points of the circuit board and the capacitor that hold them in place. While soldering, melting the board or the traces on the board is possible, which would most likely result in an unusable camera. This conversion method also changes the camera from its original state and cannot easily be undone like the other four conversion methods. Returning the camera to its original state would most likely never be required or desired, but it is something to consider before converting the camera with this method.
The conversion methods just discussed are all effective in converting the Polaroid SX-70 camera to use Polaroid 600 film. Each method has its own unique advantages and disadvantages but also produces good results.
Chapter 5: Discussion / Conclusion
The Polaroid photographs in Lost in Reverie were created using the 2-stop ND filter, photocell ND filter, film pack filter, photocell override and electronic modification conversion methods discussed in this thesis. Each of these methods was proven effective in allowing the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera to use Polaroid 600 film, which is still available. Although producing successful results, each conversion method exhibited unique advantages and disadvantages. Some of the disadvantages, however, could be eliminated or improved upon with further design and testing. The 2-stop ND filter conversion method involves placing a ND filter over the lens of the SX-70. Improvements of this method might include a better design for the filter and mount ring. Since focusing with the filter in place is the major drawback of this method, creating a more easily removed filter could remedy this issue. When shooting, the filter could be removed easily, the camera focused and the filter refitted for exposure without disrupting or moving the lens out of focus. This would allow the ease of shooting with the ND filter without the drawback of a dark viewfinder. The photocell ND filter conversion method involves removing the 1-stop ND filter over the photocell, replacing it with a clear piece of plastic and placing a 1-stop ND filter over the lens of the camera. Further development of this conversion method might include finding a clearer, thinner piece of plastic to replace the ND filter over the photocell, which would allow for a cleaner conversion of the SX-70. In addition,
as with the 2-stop ND filter conversion, a better design for mounting the ND filter to the lens would allow for quick removal of the filter in tough focusing situations. The film pack filter conversion method involves creating a 2-stop ND filter from a gel filter and placing it over the entire pack of film. Further development of this conversion method might involve exploring other types of material or other brands of gels for creating the filter. This may eliminate the issues with dust, which seems to be drawn to the gel material used in this study. New cutout designs of the filter might also improve this conversion by better locking the filter into position and eliminating the possibility of the filter being ejected during shooting. Taping the filter in place might also be applied to insure the filter is not ejected from the camera. The photocell override conversion involves shining an adjustable light source into the photocell of the SX-70 camera to trick it into achieving a proper exposure of the Polaroid 600 film. Further development of this conversion method might involve re-working the design of the equipment created to shine the adjusted light source into the photocell, thus making it more predictable. Further insight as to how the camera determines the combination of aperture and shutter speeds for exposure might allow for a more precise light source setting and resulting exposure. This would eliminate the need for so many test shots to achieve proper exposure. Also, creating a smaller, perhaps battery-operated light source that could attach to the camera might make the process more mobile and practical. The electronic modification conversion method involves changing the capacitor responsible for the shutter in the SX-70 to a smaller pF value, which
electronically increases the speed of the shutter. Further development of this conversion method could involve using a slightly smaller capacitor than the 150pF capacitor, which was used in this study. The result might be an even closer exposure that would not require the use of the light/dark control to the extent that it was in this study. These improvements upon the conversion methods discussed would allow for better predictability, less guesswork on exposure and, in turn, fewer test shots for proper exposure. They would allow the SX-70 to be more easily converted to use Polaroid 600 film to create artistic imagery. Working with the conversion methods discussed in this thesis enabled me to create artistic imagery with the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera. Each method produced acceptable results, but in experimenting with all of the methods, I found myself preferring one method over all the others. The 2-stop ND filter and the photocell ND filter methods were a quick fix and allowed me to quickly begin shooting with the SX-70 camera. These methods however, did make it difficult to focus. While in the creative process of shooting the series of Polaroids for this thesis, figuring out ways to assist in focusing because of the dark viewfinder was distracting and constantly reminded me that the filter was in place over the lens. This made these conversion methods unattractive to me. Shooting with the photocell override method offered more control beyond the light/dark control, which was a benefit since the SX-70 offers little control over the automatic design of the camera. However this benefit did not make up for the
numerous drawbacks of this process. The need for a power source and positioning the light in front of the camera was time consuming and distracting and made shooting with the SX-70 seem clumsy. Also, the guess work of finding the proper exposure and the resulting waste of film made this conversion method even less effective. In a studio situation where the light source could remain constant and the exposure consistent, this method might be affective. However if the camera will be used in many lighting situations, it offers no benefits because it is such an involved process. Once the electronic modification of the SX-70 is complete, this conversion method offers the greatest ease in shooting of all the conversions. All the drawbacks of the other methods are not an issue since the electronics in the camera are now resolving the issue of exposure. No filters or lights or darkened viewfinder come into play. The negative aspect of this conversion is replacing the capacitor. This was very difficult and requires patience and skill with a soldering iron. Since the SX-70 camera is no longer in production, if a mistake is made in replacing the capacitor, the camera will be useless. Replacing an SX-70 camera will most likely be time consuming and costly. Replacing the capacitor also changes the camera from its original state. Since film for the camera will almost assuredly never be produced again, this issue is not really that substantial but nonetheless something to think about. I found the film pack filter to be the best option for conversion of the SX-70 camera. The filter was fairly difficult to make since it needs to fit over the film precisely, but once this was complete and a well-crafted filter is created, it works well. I prefer this conversion method for several reasons. First, it does not change the
camera from its original state like the electronic modification conversion method. Second, the viewfinder is bright, and focusing is easy, unlike with both the 2-stop ND filter and photocell ND filter methods. Third, the film pack filter method is inexpensive. The cost of a ND gel filter sheet is under $10, and the sheet is large enough to make roughly twenty filters. This conversion method does have its drawbacks. Possible ejection of the filter during shooting and the need to install the filter each time a new film pack is loaded and dust were discussed earlier. However, these disadvantages did not seem as negative as the drawbacks of the other conversion methods. Upon further thought, some of the drawbacks of the process actually lead to ideas of further creativity using the SX-70 camera and a film pack filter as a tool. One process would involve using colored gels or different densities of gels built up or missing from areas covering the film. Also, rather than trying to remove dust, dust could be added to the filter or scratches or other build up on the gel that would transfer to the resulting image. The film pack filter would essentially become a transparent canvas, that when exposed through adds a whole new dimension to Polaroid photography and a unique way to create artistic imagery with the SX-70 camera. The SX-70 camera is a unique tool for creating artistic imagery. Despite the fact that the camera and film are no longer in production, the camera can still be used. All of the conversion methods discussed in this thesis enable the SX-70 camera to expose Polaroid 600 film properly. Each method has benefits and drawbacks but makes it possible to use the camera as a unique tool for creating artistic imagery.
In an increasingly digital world, it is inevitable that all Polaroid film will eventually go by the wayside. It is unfortunate, but this series of events was already set in motion with the end of film for the SX-70 in 2005. Those who refused to retire their SX-70 cameras have found ways to enable the camera to still be used. As Edwin Land told Life magazine in 1972, â€œIf you are able to state a problem, it can be solvedâ€? (qtd. in Callahan 48). In true Land fashion, photographers and artists who see the potential of the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera for creating artistic imagery can use the conversion methods discussed in this thesis to do so.
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Tyner, David. “SX-70: A New Life.” Tyner’s Photography 14 Jan. 2008. 10 Sep. 2008 <http://tynersphotography.blogspot.com/2008/01/sx-70-new-life.html>. Wensberg, Peter C. Land’s Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. Wolf, Eelco. Forward. André Kertész: The Polaroids. Ed. Paul Berlanga and Sarah Morthland. New York: Norton, 2007. 4-5.
Published on Jan 23, 2010