My Limitless Talent, Shot On Expired Polaroid Film

My Limitless Talent, Shot On Expired Polaroid Film

2000 1125 James Tocchio

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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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Your artistic gift is so great that it cannot be confined to just expired film as its medium; it undisputedly overflows into the realm of satire.

  • Your exquisite use of understatement approaches but never quite exceeds your photographic mastery.
    Awestruck. 😇😇😇

  • Vincent Jolicoeur March 24, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    In the process of selling my house to buy the shopping cart shot.

  • Sorry, James, you’ve failed with the top left image. The others are wonderful examples of the post-post-modern art school. a little repeticious, perhaps, but as first attempts, they are very promising. The problem with the image top left is you’ve left something recognisable. I can definitely see a fish. And going by its mouth proportions possibly a grouper.
    A great, and very amusing post!

    • Dear Ultimate A: so bumped i’ll miss your wine-and-cheese-and-somehow-a-grape-or-two-in-there opening at the Guggenheim tonight. I’ll also have to pass on the zoom masterclass with much chagrin, shocked to see you have foregone a truly analog version… Our paths will probably cross again at the next Sotheby to snatch the last 50k pack of Fuji FP100c, surely it will be tax-deductible this time.

  • Quarantine really got to you, didn’t it, James?

  • Do you possibly foresee there being in the near future a coupon worth 90% off the current 15 minute rate? You see, I just underwent a similar process of exposing a pack of Polaroids that aged out in 2004, yet my experience wasn’t nearly as transcendent as you describe. It very well could have been the additional year on my film pack, but in case there is a larger reason behind my disappointment, your Zoom class may help me find the missing link.

  • Truly the work of a master. You are beyond this lowly online publication and should be featured only in the most prestigious of galleries, nay, museums.

  • This is it. This is content. With a capital C. O. N. T. E. N. T.

    Looking forward to enroll in your courses and bask in the light of your glory, if only for fifteen minutes.

  • Beeple, Schmeeple! You are the king. Such incredible artistic talent had not been seen in centuries (google wanted to auto correct this to veggies). (could that be some transcendental connection??)

  • Okay now, this was fun.

  • This well and truly is the end of photography as an art form. Higher accomplishment is impossible. I have given up on this now pointless endeavor and have smashed and burned my cameras and lenses and will now explore art forms in which such perfection is yet known. Music may serve as a new field of achievement as amateurs such as J. S. Bach, Bernstein or Jarreau have never created anything as masterful and deep as your Polaroids.

    • Well, Mussorgsky’s Pictures come close. Pictures at an Exhibition, not Paintings at an Exhibition. I find this fascinating.

  • Reminds me of the time I shot Instax Mini with a plate adapter on a Rolleicord and tried to develop the film with a kitchen roll (nothing) and then a pasta-maker (something faint on one corner) until I got chemical goo on the pasta-maker roll and decided that enough art had already been made.

  • Wow! you are full of yourself and you shouldn’t be. Unimpressive photographer and artist as a whole.

  • New Picasso?
    Fun is great, imagination is also the key.

  • Peter Bidel Schwambach April 1, 2021 at 9:27 am

    Satire aside, expired film is what’s keeping analog photography alive here in Brazil right now. People dig up lots of unused, sealed cases of Solaris 100 and Colorplus 200 and Ultramax 400 and sell them for prices that are actually reasonable, specially after the last price increase that put new films between 90-140 bucks for a roll.

    • What! $90 to $140 a roll? Brazil must have humungous import duties on film!

      • Peter Bidel Schwambach April 1, 2021 at 11:53 am

        Yup. that, plus our currency is currently melting away in the perfect storm of economic + pandemic crisis, so everything’s gotten more expensive, and film has gotten even more disproportionately so. By mid 2020, you could get a roll of Portra 400 for 60-67 bucks, which is not cheap, but stil half of what it costs now. Still, you can get expired rolls for 20-35 bucks, depending on the lot, expiration date and how well it was stored, so its still mostly all good. I have a stash of Kodak Colorplus expired in 2012 that’s still as good as new, and some rolls of Solaris 100 that expired in 2008, but is still usable if you don’t mind a greenish cast over the shots. We also have a few art collectives repackaging Kodak and Fuji cine film, and reselling it under their own brands for as little as 21 bucks per 24 exp roll, so despite everything, film is still going strong-ish down here. We just gotta be a little more creative

  • $420? I hope you didn’t come down from your high, after making a score like that. Let’s be blunt, doobie want to let us in on your pusher? That Polaroid joint? Well, the first one is always free.

  • Your 2021 essay has lasting value. It lifted me out of the doldrums and made me laugh after unintentionally creating three similar images with my old 1999 Polaroid 600 film. Mine do show faint images of my subject in the center dome-shaped smear, but the rest is warm tan with yellow domes like yours. My Impulse AF Polaroid camera still works well – it flashed and did it’s thing. I’m almost tempted to buy some film. I wonder why the bright smears always appear at the bottom of the picture. Thanks for your stories.

  • I need to use a polaroid camera in an amatuer play we are performing. The camera we have but the polaroid 600 film I need to buy. Now to save cost I was wondering if expired film is okay to use as the quality of the photos is not the issue here but just the performance of taking the photos. The main question is will expired film damage the camera do you know?? If not the price difference currently on ebay is just under half for the amount I need for over 3 nights. Any help appreciated

    • It’s possible that the batteries in the packs will be dead on expired film. The batteries are in the film pack, so I’d just err on the safe side and get new.

  • Thank you James for the good advice. I will buy new then. Nothing worse than on the night no photos coming out of camera. Your help greatly appreciated

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio