In 1969, when Edwin Land’s team first produced a photo that could develop out in daylight, he presented his team with a celebratory cake reading “From darkness there shall come light.” The epigraph sounded Biblical, or maybe Shakespearean, but Land (who, let’s face it, thought a lot of himself) had just made it up. The key component was a set of chemicals that functioned as an “opacifier”—something that blocked all light for the minute or so of development, then vanished. It was a technological tour de force, managed principally by a couple of chemists named Stanley Bloom and Sheldon Buckler.
Forty years later, it has been very difficult for the team at The Impossible Project to make similar progress, as it attempts to reproduce the results without access to the old ingredients, many of which are simply no longer made. Land had a team of 50 scientists dedicated solely to the opacifier for a couple of years, with a total research budget in the hundreds of millions; the entire Impossible company numbers 32, with a tiny fraction of the capital to invest. As a result, Impossible can’t work out all the bugs before selling its product; it has to sell the beta tests, and so far, they have been promising but also frustrating. Impossible’s opacifier thus far has been nearly but not entirely light-tight, meaning that photos have to be shielded as the camera ejects them, using a piece of cardboard or a cardboard box or a black plastic tongue that Impossible sells. It’s manageable indoors, but infuriating outside, where the light is brighter and the slightest breeze messes up the process. I have spoiled a lot of photos that got accidentally flashed one way or another. At $3 apiece, that has put a lot of customers off a second order.
This past week, a newsletter blast from Impossible revealed that the problem has, practically speaking, been conquered. A vastly improved opacifier is in the works, and packages of test film have been made available to a select group of Impossible’s designated Pioneer customers. And here are some of the first results: photos shot and developed without a shield.
There are more here, in the Flickr group devoted to these films. Impossible notes that the colors haven’t been optimized in this test batch of this film, and that they’ll be better in the production run. If you ask me, it’s the first product they’ve produced that is a genuine replacement for Polaroid film, and I suspect I am going to be shooting a lot of it. Reportedly, a full re-introduction will happen this September. There are still issues for Impossible to work out—like the divot at the top center of many photos that’s caused by inadequate reagant spread—but this has been by far the biggest flaw in the current film, and I am delighted that this little band of crazed enthusiasts has been able to power through it. Props to Martin Steinmeijer, Impossible’s chief chemist, who’s done all those old Polaroid scientists proud. I’ll post my own photo tests as soon as I can get my hands on a pack of this film.
(By the way, sources differ on the exact wording of the cake. I went with the version used by Land’s biographer.)
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