Throughout August my Twitter feed has been full of regret, of the instant kind!
The event is run by @ShittyCameraChallenge who are “a grass roots photography contest that encourages photographers to get out & make art using shitty cameras.” It’s not for the purists or the anal. The emphasis is on having fun and the only real restriction is that you can only use a camera of dubious quality. This August was dedicated to instant cameras and with plastic lenses and uncompromising recording media there was a heck of a lot of dubious quality but aesthetically wonderful images on display. From Polaroid and Instax to thermal printing paper there was a lot of variety to enjoy.
For a truly analogue experience I also chose to use a typewriter for the captions and for the same reason typed each only once, seeing errors and typos as part of the authentic vibe.
Whilst instant photography on the whole has a built-in lo-fi aesthetic it’s not a genre where you can just point and shoot willy-nilly and expect to get consistently great images. At least not in my experience. Much like traditional transparency films instant film is not the most tolerant of extremes of contrast for example. I therefore tend to look at a scene reasonably carefully (not to an anal degree though) and consider what will happen to highlights and shadows before pressing the button. Some of these cameras have a limited degree of manual control, emphasis on limited, but nevertheless this can be a real benefit in certain situations.
Week 1 was all about Polaroid for me, the SX-70 Sonar to be precise. At £18 per pack (the cheapest I could find) this works out at £2.25 per image. It’s definitely not a camera to wave around indiscriminately! That said, I still experimented and so not every frame was a “keeper”. I shortlisted 19 of the 24 frames however and posted 16 to my INSTANTREGRET album.
But, it’s not just about cost. It’s about the aesthetic and the experience.
Before anyone who knows me objects, I know that I don’t usually like the word “experience” as in “customer experience” applied to visiting the bank to withdraw money. That’s a necessary chore … an experience for me is something outside of the realm of the daily humdrum of life. So, using a camera is definitely in the category of an “experience “ in my view. But I digress.
The SX-70 is a lovely old SLR camera using SX70 instant film, introduced in 1972 although my Sonar model hails from around 1978. It is of the right vintage for my first serious photography phase during my teenage years but at the time I worked exclusively with a couple of 35mm film cameras and never dabbled with instant photography. It sits very nicely in the (my) hand and handles beautifully. Even my 10-year old Grandson can handle it with confidence (see pic). Mine has no “frog tongue” to protect the newly ejected print, however I have developed a technique of twisting the camera upside down at the moment the print starts to eject which appears to do the same thing. It’s an odd looking camera compared to a standard SLR with no obvious hand grip … but as Zac demonstrates, it is incredibly easy to hold.
Week 2 saw the Instax Wide 300 camera in action. A large, chunky and clunky affair with some limited manual control available, it is my preferred instant film format. The image area is similar to the Polaroid and I also have a Wide printer that I use to print iPhone pics for giving to others.
This printer allows me to instantly print phone pictures and also demonstrates that the film itself isn’t that bad. Limitations in the images from the Wide 300 are down to the camera rather than the film.
Week 3 Instax Square with the Instax SQ6 was the camera of choice next. I enjoy the square format. My Bronica SQ-A medium format camera produces fabulous 6x6cm negatives and whilst I know some people struggle with the format I thoroughly enjoy creating images within the square field of view. The only struggle this week was with time for photography. My wife and I provide childcare during the school holidays for our four daughters. With up to six grandchildren at a time and never less than two it’s been a busy time.
Week 4 is currently underway and was originally intended to be devoted to the Lomo Instant which uses Fuji Instax Mini film. However, the week isn’t going exactly to plan. With additional, unplanned, childcare our free time is less than expected. In addition I had an attack of FOMO* and rather recklessly added another instant camera at the last minute.
So, in addition to the Lomo Instant, with which I have a love-hate relationship, I also have a kids thermal print camera in the bag vying for attention. I will write about this latest addition at a later date but the images it produces are truly “shitty” and I love them!
So, a quick update from the midst of the Challenge. I shall return to the theme several times over the coming weeks I’m sure. I will also share more images from the Challenge as I start to work through them prior to pulling together a commemorative zine.
Watch this space!
*FOMO – fear of missing out
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