In my fridge here at the studio, I have a box and a half left of Type 55 Polaroid 4×5 film. It sits, unused…replaced by a fast-moving industry that depends on digital technology to produce everything “on screen” on quick turn-around. It’s funny that it’s only a few months old, and I’m probably one of the last photographers around who ever used the stuff. In fact, on a recent trip to the equipment rental shop the counterman half-jokingly tried to sell me the Polaroid 4×5 back on a more permanent basis. Sadly, Type 55 Polaroid isn’t being made any more.
Don’t get me wrong, digital is great stuff. I didn’t start my career as a digital photographer, though. The process of shooting film required a greater degree of involvement, and once used to the process it’s hard not to lament the old ways of doing things. The thing I liked most about the Type 55 film was the instant-gratification of having a useable image (much like digital is today) but having the super fine-grain quality of a large negative. There have been many occasions through my career as a photographer where I preferred the organic feel of this film and I, for one, am really going to miss getting my hands dirty.
When Dr. Penny Lloyd, a holistic veterinarian here in Colorado, contacted me about doing some promotional images for her business, the Type 55 was the first thing I grabbed before heading out to her mountain ranch. I knew the organic nature of the film would mesh nicely with the business image she wanted to project.
Dr. Lloyd is a licensed veterinarian who, in the interest of serving her patients better, took a turn down the alternative medicine path. This led to her cultivating an ability to communicate with and understanding the perspectives of her animal patients. Watching her interact with her horse, Bangwyn, was a lesson in communication and connectivity. She really speaks to animals. The weather was crisp and cold—and the scattered bright patches of snow on the ground lent an almost ethereal atmosphere to the shots. I captured some fantastic images of the two of them together.
I probably shot less than 20 frames that day on the Type 55, but each of the images came back with a powerful, emotional edge to them. When I submitted them to the art director for the shoot, she immediately fell in love with them. As a horse owner herself, the emotional connection caught on those timeless 4×5’s was something she couldn’t resist. It was only a matter of days before I had another shoot scheduled with her and her horse. Again, the results came back crisp and clean—typical of the high-resolution of the film itself (the highest resolution black and white film actually), but with the organic, hands-on feel left by the chemical patching on the edges.
It’s a careful process shooting with type 55. It’s an old-school working method that lends itself to a methodical, mindful approach to photography. It puts both the photographer and the subject in a special frame of mind that you don’t get with the rapid-fire, digital revolution…and there’s a shared sense of wonder as I peel apart the film, save the neg for scanning later, wipe the chemicals from my fingers onto my jeans, and pass the print around for everyone to see. Though I’m (nearly) a 100% digital photographer now, I still miss the physical process of film. Polaroid’s Type 55 will certainly go down in my book as one of my all-time favorites. I have no idea yet what I’m going to do with the rest of that box and a half in my fridge, but I’ll think of something to savor it with.