MARK D ROBERTS & DENISE ROULEAU
Mark and I have visited many places with our Polaroid cameras and Como Park’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota has become our favorite place to photograph. Como is a delight for anyone with a camera. Its seasonally changing color palette and strong architectural lines make it difficult to produce a bad image. The challenge, however, is capturing on film all its nuances and charm. It is the fragrant scents in the air; the soothing trickle of a fountain; and the warm humidity on the skin. It is where our parents took us when we were little and where we take our children’s children. Como rejuvenates the spirit. It is our Midwestern tropical sanctuary during the cold winter months. The enchantment of Como goes beyond what we see.
For us, capturing the flora and architecture of Conservatory is not about attempting to duplicate on film what nature and the scores of talented staff and volunteers have created. Shooting and manipulating Polaroid film frees us from imitation and calculation and offers its own sensory experience. First, there is something disarming about photographing with a simple vintage Polaroid camera. It usually elicits smiles and one of two remarks: “I haven’t seen one of those in years” or “What is that?” Once you make the shot there is that distinct Polaroid sound as rollers eject the film from the camera. Then there is the eager anticipation as the image slowly appears. SX-70 (Time Zero) film goes a step further with its unique properties as the film dyes of the ejected sheet behave like wet paint. With the use of simple tools, the lines of the image can be exaggerated and distorted before they harden. Plain backgrounds within the image become an open canvas for creating interesting textures and topographical relief. The results, depending on how the film behaves and your creativity, are pictures that can be impressionistic, surreal or abstract. The manipulated images are then printed in sizes of up to four feet square on a metallic coated paper which enhances their textural and luminous qualities.
Mark and I were in the midst of planning an exhibition with Como when Polaroid announced it would cease production of the SX-70 film. We suddenly had to make some difficult choices on how we would use the remaining stock of our precious sheets of film. While we are drawn to the film’s unpredictability, which can produce breathtaking imagery, we were also well aware that its volatile nature can lead to entire packs of inflexible or unusable film. On the one hand, the film’s scarcity compelled us to be extremely thoughtful about how we shoot. On the other hand, it caused us to recognize that it was just as significant to experiment and take chances since it may be our last opportunity.
There is recent good news that makes us optimistic that this artistic process may be saved. A group of European Polaroid enthusiasts and ex-employees, known as "The Impossible Project” has leased a former Polaroid factory in Holland with the aim of not just reproducing, but reinventing the production of Polaroid film – albeit with new characteristics and under a new name. While we are saddened that this project marks for us the end of an era for SX-70 Polaroid film, we look forward to working with its new incarnation. We trust it will prove that analog instant Polaroid film cannot be replaced by digital photography; rather it deserves its own place as a distinct and gratifying art-form.
About the Last Polaroid Show