The Crusade To Reinvent Polaroid

Feb 12, 2009
Interview by Conor Risch

Polaroid Factory, Enschede, Netherlands
Photo Credit: Courtesy The Impossible Project
Machinery at the old Polaroid factory, Enschede, Netherlands, now home to The Impossible Project.
If you shoot Polaroid, chances are that by now you’ve heard of The Impossible Project, a group of 12 men, many of whom worked for Polaroid, who are trying to reinvent the way integral film packs are manufactured. They hope to fill the demand left since Polaroid ceased production of analog instant film last year.
With the help of private funding, the group bought the equipment in Polaroid’s integral film factory in Enschede, Netherlands, and signed a ten-year lease on the space. Their goal is to produce integral film packs for vintage Polaroid cameras starting in 2010, using an entirely new method of manufacture and assembly.
Earlier this week I spoke with the group’s executive director of marketing and business development, Dr. Florian Kaps, to get some specifics on what the Polaroid lovers of the world can expect if The Impossible Project were to succeed.

Why isn’t it possible to manufacture the film in the same way it was produced previously?

Every Polaroid film pack consists of about 25 components and many of these components aren’t available anymore. So what we have to do is basically find new suppliers for most of the materials. It’s not possible to produce original Polaroid film, so we are looking for a new product. The meaning of Polaroid film and the needs of the customer is completely different now than the needs of back in the day. It’s more a niche market product now and not a mass-market product.

So even though your firm have purchased the Polaroid production equipment and signed a lease for the Enschede facility, you can’t simply go back to manufacturing the film the way it has always been made because the manufacturers that used to produce components of the instant film pack are no longer doing it?

Yes, exactly. Especially the negative that was used to produce, for instance, SX-70 film. Polaroid produced it on their own, it was an original recipe from, I think, 1972. It was a very complicated process, and basically no other company could do it the way Polaroid did. They closed the factory where they produced these negatives, I think, two and a half years ago, and just used the frozen, pre-produced negatives, and as soon as these ran out they had to close the factory, so no company in the world can reproduce exactly this material. So this is our chance and our tas: to find new materials that can produce a new kind of film.

Polaroid could potentially still produce this material but they’ve decided not to?

I don’t know why they decided to stop production of this negative. That is a question that Polaroid has to answer. They had some problems and the decision was clearly that Polaroid decided to become a consumer electronics company and they didn’t want to invest any more money into the analog film business. The numbers of the analog market, it really went down, so nobody believed in the future of instant film. What we are now experiencing is that there is an increasing number of people discovering this material.

Is there a concern among your group that reinventing the way the integral film packs are manufactured is going to affect the visual quality that has made the film so popular and so iconic?

We are not afraid of this at all. We are just afraid that there is still a good chance that we won’t be able to produce any film.

But I think as soon as we can produce film, people will love it. The reason people are now buying Polaroid film is not because it’s the perfect material. It’s not because it guarantees exactly the same result each time you use it. Polaroid spent so much money—and maybe this is part of the reason why they couldn’t continue production—to make it a perfect material, but basically they never succeeded, because Polaroid was always a very sensitive material. When it’s cold outside it’s more blue and when it’s warmer it’s more red. Compared to the so-called picture quality and what is now the quality standards of pictures, Polaroid will never be a perfect material. And nowadays, especially the expired Polaroid film, it’s exactly this analog characteristic and surprising effect that people are looking for.
I think we will be able to create a product that exactly matches this new demand for analog film. It’s like the vinyl record. People hated [the sound vinyl made] in the beginning of the record back in the days, and people tried to figure out how to get rid of this noise, but now this analog sound is responsible for the rebirth of vinyl records. [The new film] will  be very analog, with very interesting characteristics. It maybe will not be the perfect material compared to digital images. We don’t want it to be perfect, we want it to be surprising, challenging. Every shot should be an adventure.

Because the film never was perfected and in fact can’t be perfected, it will almost certainly share the characteristics that are currently in demand?

It will have everything that people love nowadays about Polaroid. There will also be some new formats and new characteristics and new things, but always it will be an analog instant picture and we can promise that you will still shake it like a Polaroid, and it will come out of the same Polaroid cameras. We will concentrate on having a product that has all of these characteristics that people love in Polaroid film these days.

Is the goal to produce film for medium format cameras as well?

Not in the first stage. We don’t have the machines to produce this kind of film, we just bought the assembly machines for all the integral material. The 600 film, the 670 film and the larger one, the Spectra.

In terms of funding for the project, do you feel that you have the money that you need to do the research and development that it will take to reinvent the way the integral film packs are made?

We have enough funding to have one year searching for a new way to produce the photo pack of film.

What do you project that the demand will be for the film should your group succeed?

We think that the baseline for the demand on instant film worldwide for the next years will be around 10 million packs per year. The first year of of production the plan is to produce three million [packs], but in 2011 production will be ten million packs.

Link: The Impossible Project

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