My two year—and counting—foray into the wild world of Polaroid SX-70 photography has taken me in various directions. Recently, I have been working with Polaroid Black and White 600 film and this has led to my current project at Camp Morton Provincial Park in Manitoba.
Established as a Fresh Air Camp in 1921, the site was once an escape for underprivileged children from nearby Winnipeg. Set on the banks of Lake Winnipeg, the eleventh largest fresh water lake on planet Earth, it would have been a happy place to swim, play, breath in fresh country air. The camp ceased operating in 1971 and has since been transformed into a Provincial Park. While many of the unique camp buildings have been retained, they are all in various stages of decay. In particular, lakefront stairs, retaining walls and other structures have been ravaged by the angry lake, which completely freezes over in winter.
It seemed a perfect subject for a black and white photo project.
One of the frustrations of working with the Polaroid SX-70 camera is its fully automatic exposure system. As a well-seasoned photographer, I am accustomed to being in full control of setting aperture f-stops and shutter speeds to determine the correct exposure for my pictures. For Polaroid cameras—including the sophisticated folding SX-70 camera of the 1970s and 80s—the sole user control is the uncalibrated exposure compensation dial allowing the exposure to be adjusted lighter or darker by some unknown factor. Getting a good photo on the first try is unlikely and, on occasion, I have used an entire film pack to get one decently exposed image.
There is but one way to gain some semblance of exposure control on an SX-70 camera and that is to buy a specially modified version.
Enter MiNT Camera, a Hong Kong-based company that refurbishes vintage folding SX-70 cameras, installs new electronics and a new electric eye, reclads the camera with black or brown leather and adds a small exposure control module—something they call the Time Machine—that attaches to the camera’s flash socket. MiNT produces three versions of its camera: the SLR670m has the Time Machine, works with SX-70 and 600 films manually and with SX-70 in Auto mode or with the Time Machine detached; the SLR670-S adds an Auto mode for 600 film and the camera natively shoots Polaroid 600 film with the Time Machine detached; the SLR670-X adds external flash sync and metal cladding instead of the regular leather cladding. There is also a SLR670-S Classic model but it appears to use a pre-Alpha 1 version of the SX-70 camera and does not have a tripod socket—which I consider essential—or neck strap loops.
By now, Gail and I would have departed on our flight from Winnipeg to Paris, via Montreal. Tomorrow we would have walked the streets of Paris. The following day would have taken us by train to Laon. And, after a day there, a short train ride would have taken us to nearby Tergnier.
Just six months ago, on September 26 2019, we had walked to that small city. It was the endpoint of our trek from London to Canterbury (following the Chaucer Way) and from Canterbury to Tergnier on the first leg of our Via Francigena pilgrimage to Rome. Our plans for this spring were to complete another stage of the journey, this time from Tergnier to Besançon—23 walking days and some 550 kilometres later.
As we all now know, an invisible threat has, with devastating fury, reshaped all of our day-to-day lives and, in one tiny corner of the globe—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—forced Gail and me to cancel our springtime walk across France.
Today, we will not board that flight. Instead, we will cocoon in our comfortable Wolseley home, barbecue a couple of steaks and open a good bottle of French wine.
And we will contemplate our return to France and the resumption of our two-footed mission to Rome. Soon. This Fall. Maybe. Hopefully.