Thursday, 2 April 2015

Instant Lab Portraits: From Digital to Analog and Back Again


A couple of years ago, Impossible Project, the makers of polaroid-compatible instant film, began producing a device they call the Instant Lab, which allows you to transfer digital images from a smartphone or tablet to instant film prints. Some call the device a printer, but Impossible Project calls it a camera, and I tend to agree with the latter. Now, Impossible Project are not the only ones manufacturing these type of devices, there exist similar ones by Fujifilm and Lomography which produce prints using Fujifilm Instax Mini film. 
The success of these devices (as well as on demand print books etc.), and the increasing demand for instant film cameras overall, obviously points to a demand for a return to tangible, physical images; not as a replacement of but existing alongside the possibilities which the digital age has to offer in terms of capturing and presenting photos. 
As interesting as that may be, I am more intrigued by another facet of this: the continuous blurring of the lines between analog and digital. Analog photos obviously also exist in the digital sphere, they are scanned (from a negative or a positive) then presented and shared online. The physical copy of the image may not even exist beyond the negative. When scanning analog photos, the results are sometimes digitally manipulated, and even if not, the very act of scanning oftentimes alters the image. Additionally, viewing a photo on a backlit screen is a very different experience from viewing a print. 
In other words, photos shot on analog equipment already lead a hermaphrodite type of existence. 
Now the Instant Lab actually keeps blurring the distinction even more. Transferring a digital image to the instant film is not a copy/paste process, the result is never a 1:1 transfer. Depending on the film used, or the exposure time, or a number of other variables, the result is different in one way or another from the original. You can even do double exposures. Like any camera, you need to get the hang of it to produce optimum results. 
And of course, all that happens after you manipulate a photo on the smartphone, sometimes more, sometimes less so.
And finally, of course, you scan the physical picture and the process has come full circle. 

I have been using the Instant Lab since 2013, and presented a good number of results on my site. I have now put together a set that showcases all the portrait and street photography images that I put through the Instant Lab. The set includes straight transfers of iPhone photos to instant film, but it also includes double exposures done with the instant lab as well as copies of manipulations I did with the pics and the iPhone. It even includes an image I created when I accidentally cracked the screen of my iPhone. 
The interesting aspect is that the device allows for a different range of images than is possible with standard Polaroid cameras. Besides the aforementioned image manipulations, this includes photos taken in situations for which the Polaroid cameras are not well suited for, interiors (if you don't like flash) or street photography (Polaroid cameras tend to be a bit too obvious for discrete shots) for example. Some results are due to accidents: my instant lab has recently developed a flaw, damaging the exposure. Strangely enough, the damage often works in favour of the image, somehow accentuating the subject in the photo (Impossible Project has offered to replace the device, I should add).

Links:
More instant film photos