First Snow in Black and White and Polaroid

My Polaroid work of late has been entirely in colour, using the latest iteration of Polaroid SX-70 colour film. However, for some time I have coveted the opportunity to play with Polaroid’s Black and White SX-70 film. After all, I was a black and white film photographer for twenty-plus years leading up to my introduction to digital photography—and colour— at the turn of this century.

Having now gone back to my early Polaroid roots in the 1970s, when I first worked with a OneStep camera and the original SX-70 film, it also seemed appropriate to return to my black and white roots with the new B&W SX-70 film.

It turned out to be a true test of my vintage folding SX-70 camera and the finicky nature of SX-70 film. To set the scene, Gail and I were walking our greyhound, Styxx, along the trails of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Forest. A beautiful walk at any time of year, today’s light layer of fresh snow made it particularly wonderful. Of course, it was cold, just slightly below freezing. I knew that Polaroid film does not like the cold and took steps to keep the camera tucked inside my insulated jacket between shots. I also knew I would not see the results of a shot for at least fifteen minutes and, even at Styxx’s leisurely pace, I wouldn’t have a second chance to correct any poor exposures—which is pretty much a given with Polaroid film.

What I didn’t anticipate were problems with the camera. As soon as we began our walk, I took two pictures at two different exposures, waited fifteen minutes and then used the results to select the best exposure setting for the remaining photos (using the funky exposure dial on the camera). The camera appeared to work well throughout the walk. There were all the usual whirs and clunks as I hit the shutter button. The film ejected promptly and without complaint. The photos were immediately tucked into a warm, inside pocket to develop.

Back in our comfortably warm home, I pulled the photos out of my pocket. Aside from my first two test photos, all were considerably under-exposed. I can only assume my camera got too cold after those first photos to maintain the correct exposure (it can’t be me!). Cold weather also took its toll on the film: the developer “goo” inside each piece of film spread unevenly across the film as it was being ejected, creating odd effects.

As I have learned through my recent work with Polaroid film and cameras, results are anything but predictable. I liken it to walking Styxx: it is best to let him take the lead and explore new territories from his perspective.

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