Old Polaroid

Here’s an old Polaroid SX-70 image I took many years ago, probably around 1975. Lucas Samaras invented this technique to alter SX-70 images by pressing into the emulsion with a stylus, it was wildly popular with Polaroid owners. It was tricky, you had about 3 minutes to work with the emulsion while it was still developing, and the results were always unpredictable. This picture of some potted plants was about as good a result as I ever got with this technique.



Altered SX-70 Photo


Of course this technique isn’t going to impress anyone that ever used Photoshop and the Smudge Tool, but it was a revelation to photographers back in the 1970s. Photographers tend to treat their technology as inviolate and perfect, gouging prints with a stylus while they developed was exactly the sort of thing you were supposed to never do. Polaroid discontinued this type of film just as the technique became popular with fine artists, and it died overnight.

When I looked through my old SX-70 prints, I was astonished to see several prints with a large crack through the middle. Polaroid promised us that the SX-70 process was the most archival process they could make, and the prints would last for hundreds of years. The dyes are still in great shape but the emulsion is cracking. It doesn’t do much good to have stable dyes if the supporting emulsion is going to shrivel up and die in 25 years. I decided to have an almost microscopic look at this altered image to see if the emulsion was in good shape. It isn’t. But it looks really cool.


Detail


I expected these prints wouldn’t hold up over the years so I’m not too surprised at the fine cracking. It’s adding a patina to the images they didn’t have when they were first made, I kind of like it. These images are some of the first experiments in one of my most abstract ideas, that my prints should be interesting at every single viewing scale, from microscopic on up to normal size, and that you can only get these effects by seeing the image firsthand. So this web image only gives a tiny hint of the cool stuff happening in the fine details of this overall image. And that’s one of the other problems with Polaroids, every one is unique and can never be reproduced properly.

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