The thing that I love most about shooting expired film is the way that it enhances my already considerable natural talent. No other medium, be it new film, be it digital imaging, be it paint brushes or Zen garden, be it Spirograph or Bedazzler, allows me to truly express myself the way that expired film does. And yesterday I experienced the ultimate expression of expired film – Polaroid.
It happened this way – I bought four rolls of expired 35mm film on eBay for the low price of $420. I was thrilled. The package arrived via USPS, and in total darkness in my darkroom, I opened it. By feel, I identified the four rolls of expired film – Kodak Portra. I know a Kodak Portra canister by touch. I love Portra. It is the only film. And that I now had four rolls of it was amazing. But even more amazing – in the bottom of the package I felt a strange, square-shaped box. I removed it from the package and went out into the light to discover that I held in my hand a pack of Polaroid 600 film, with an expiration date stamped on the bottom: July, 2005. How did something so old survive and find its way to me? The universe at work.
My only Polaroid camera is the One Step 2. While I love this camera, it’s hard to ignore how it limits my otherwise boundless creativity. This camera has no double exposure mode, no aperture control, no way to darkroom print or make cyanotypes, no way to add medium format-style film borders and instantly post my shots via Bluetooth to Instagram. Even worse than these limitations, the instant film it uses can’t be pushed. I always push my film. Always. I consider the act of pushing film to be art in itself, you understand.
Still, despite these limitations I persevered, knowing in my heart that within the ten white-bordered square frames held within my expired pack of Polaroid 600 film laid ten dormant masterworks. I had only but to frame and shoot, and my art would be freed.
Fourteen hours later the frames had been shot. The art had been made. And though I at first had bemoaned the limitations of my camera, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the limitations, in fact, urged my craft forward to a place of transcendency. The ten frames which I made are among the greatest photographs I (perhaps, anyone?) have ever made.
My first photo, naturally, was of my first daughter. She being the inspiration for so many things in my life, I found it fitting to gift her as the subject of the first of my ten masterpieces. She would be immortalized in my art. The greatest gift a father could give.
The photo, a shot of her standing in front of our living room’s bay window, shows incredible tonality. The light cascades through the gossamer-thin curtains, bathing one side of her face in sunlight while leaving the other enigmatically shrouded in shadow. Her gentle smile hints (but only hints) at happiness. My intention with this photo was to commentate on happiness itself, the happiness of humanity, of mankind. The sun, bathing only half of her face, reminds us that true happiness is never truly possessed by we mere mortals. That even at our lightest moments, there is inevitable darkness. Who knew that such a powerful image could be made with just a window.
Beyond its sophisticated conceptual overtone, the photo is rich with aesthetically pleasing qualities. Among the most striking of its visual bounty is its exceptional tones. The entire right side of the frame is a tone in and of itself, while the left side, paradoxically, is an entirely different tone.
Notice the way that the tones juxtapose against one another while also allowing each tone to speak for itself, individually on its own, singularly, as one. Having just one tone in this photo would have been enough. I have made a photo with two tones. This was not easy to pull off, especially considering the aforementioned limitations of both the expired Polaroid film and the rather hamstrung Polaroid camera which was used to make the photograph.
The way that I managed to create these two contrary yet complementary tones within a single photograph is very difficult to explain. The complexities of the tones and the mechanics needed to make them are sadly beyond many casual photographers. At the least, they are too complicated to explain in a single language.
I know that this is a let-down, that many of you are here specifically to understand how I create my art so that you may grow yourselves as artists. A noble pursuit, made even nobler when we consider that the heights of talent held in these pages can be reached by so few. The best that I can do, for now, is to let you know that I’m currently outlining a one-on-one mentorship program which will be conducted over Zoom. In this program I will instruct you, personally, on how to create tones. Pricing has yet to be determined, but we are targeting an approachable range – somewhere between $999 and $1,500 per fifteen-minute block. More on this in the coming months. Until then, make sure to like, comment, and subscribe.
Lest you think for a moment that I am but a one-hit wonder, capable of creating only a single masterpiece out of a ten shot pack, I will include at the tail end of this article eight of the remaining nine photographs. You’ll notice that I’ve made amazing photos of many subjects, the variety of which showcases my range as an artist. See these shots below – a gas station, a mailbox, one corner of an old car’s headlight, an intentionally over-flashed portrait, bokeh, and one of my personal favorites, a shopping cart. (Please don’t screenshot these – I am planning to sell them as NFTs.)
You’ll notice that I’ve only included nine of my photos in the article. There’s a reason for that.
The tenth and final photograph of the pack could not be included in this article. When it ejected from the camera, a strange thing happened. I heard harps, an organ, a choir. A bright, white light surrounded me, engulfed me, became me. The tenth photograph held in my hand seemed to float from my grip, to hover for a second before it folded into itself in what can only be described as an iridescent collapse, an imploding bloom of light, an infinity photograph. All sound ceased. The photograph diminished to a single, brilliant point of light – and then vanished.
Where it has gone I can only guess. But there’s a light living within me now. I can feel it. I feel that I have become something more, something pure. I feel that I am now the ultimate artist.
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