With Polaroid’s integral and peel apart films now becoming a distant memory, many photographers lament losing the creative potential that instant films provided. They can take heart, for not only is the Impossible Project making integral films to fit the beloved folding SX-70 and 600 cameras, but Fuji Film continues to make their own integral offering (Instax) and continues to provide two beautiful instant peel apart films. For those new to instant films (and it is funny to even have to acknowledge that) the difference between integral and peel apart may need some brief explanation. Peel apart is the original old fashioned instant film invented by Edwin Land in 1948. It contains a negative, a positive and a reagent in a film pack. After exposure, the packet is pulled through two rollers, a timed development takes place and the final photo is peeled away from the negative. Integral on the other hand contains those same components but is never peeled apart, the image instead migrating and settling onto the positive inside the film packet. It is a more complex process, one that took Polaroid many years to perfect.
Both films offer interesting manipulative options and we will focus on Fuji’s peel apart offering FP-100C, available in both “pack,” 31⁄4 x41⁄4, and “4×5,” a 31⁄2 x41⁄2 print. Fuji’s 4×5 is in fact a pack film also, needing the Polaroid 550 holder or Fuji’s own holder. The smaller size is much less expensive and you may wish to begin your experiments with this.
Like Polaroid’s venerable T669 (Polacolor ER) the Fuji version is capable of making image transfers and emulsion lifts. It has one more ace up its sleeve however in that you can recover and scan or print from its peeled away negative. What did I say? Recover the negative? Like Polaroid T55 of 665? Well sort of, I would never say that this negative rivals those films in ultimate quality but as alternative processes go, this can open up all sorts of creative looks when introduced into a hybrid workflow.
Ok, what do we need to get started? Well a pack of Fuji FP- 100C to start and some way to expose your film. There are millions of Polaroid Pack cameras out in the world and you can easily get one on eBay for under $35.00. The Pack series cameras were sold under 100, 200, 300 and 400 model lines, the higher the number the later the models. Some had high quality rangefinders made by Zeiss, such as the 250. All used batteries that often corroded as they sat for years in closets, so be careful about that. Online stores such as Freestyle sell a replacement for around $12.00, and can make these cameras perform as new. There are of course manual versions of pack cameras such as the 180 and 195; these are highly desirable but more rare and certainly more expensive. Late model versions of the Reporter are also good; they were all plastic but actually high quality.
Daylab also makes a great product called the Copy System Pro, which will take any flat art (and even 3D objects) and “copy” them onto pack film of any variety. It is great for old photos, digital prints and even your face if you are so inclined. It runs on batteries, is very portable and a load of fun to use.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter, recovering that negative. You can begin the recovery process as soon as the negative is dry. You can also wait days or weeks to begin the process. The reason you can even do this is that unlike Polaroid, which used an opaque black polyester base for its color peel apart negatives, Fuji uses a black coating applied to the film base. As it turns out this black coating is soluble in bleach, as in the Clorox variety. You can utilize any of several forms of bleach, liquid, spray bottle or in gel form. I recommend the gel form for safety and comfort reasons. Chlorine bleach in the concentrated form sold in stores has a pH of 12 to 12.5, (on a scale that goes to 14) making it highly alkaline. As such you should wear hand and eye protection, and work in a well-ventilated area. I prefer the gel version of bleach that is sold as toilet bowl cleaner. Despite this less than exciting real world role it is the best material I have used to clear the backing.
The materials you will need are the following:
• A piece of glass or Plexiglas® ranging from 8×10 to 16×20 in size.
• Tape, I prefer FrogTape® painter’s tape, others prefer scotch tape.
• Several 2-inch to 4-inch foam paintbrushes, paper towels can work as well.
• You will want paper towels anyway for clean up.
• Source of water, if you are in a kitchen or darkroom you are good, otherwise have a tray or container of water nearby.
• Scissors, thin rubber gloves (examination gloves are best) and eye protection—safety glasses sold in hardware stores work great.
• A line and clothespins to hang the negatives to dry.
To begin, strip away any remaining paper on the top and bottom of the negative. Cutting it off with a scissors may be the easiest. Place the negative emulsion side down on the glass and carefully tape the edges to the glass. The idea is to seal the underside of the negative so it will not receive any bleach.
Squeeze out the bowl cleaner into a bowl or bucket and load it up on your foam brush. Brush it now onto the backside of your negative and allow it to sit for several minutes. I then like to take a clean brush dipped in water and remove much of the gel. If you wipe this brush on a paper towel you will see it is black like ink. I again take a water dipped brush and repeat the clean up. If your brush is nearly clear when wiping on a towel, you are done, if not I repeat the gel application one more time.
When you are satisfied that the backing has been cleared, remove the tape and place your negative into a tray of water. The emulsion side of the negative will swell somewhat and you can carefully rub it with your gloved fingers to remove any excess reagent that had dried but is now re-liquefying. If you have access to a true film washer use it, if not have running water pass into your tray and change it several times over the course of ten minutes. Once the washing is done hang it up to dry. If you have a traditional wetting agent such as Kodak Photo-Flo, it will help reduce watermarks. Once dry, you will now have a large format negative suitable for scanning or printing. You will find the color a bit strange, resembling 1950s color photos. You may wish to convert it directly to black and white.
Resources: Websites: daylab.com, ebay.com, freestylephoto.biz, fujifilm.com, Kodak.com