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.
It is hard to believe that one year ago today, in early March 2020, Gail and I were readying for a trip to France. We were to leave on March 30, arrive in Paris, make our way to the small city of Langres and continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route towards Rome for another 550 kilometres.
One year later, and that trip is still on hold with no reasonable expectation that we can resume any sooner than the spring of 2022. While I am eager to get back on the trail—I will be in my seventieth year by then with many long walks still on the waiting list—life at home in Winnipeg has not been one of regrets. In spite of lockdowns and social distancing, my days seemed to overflow with creative exercises and hyper-local diversions.
One of several limitations of the current crop of SX-70 films is their sensitivity to temperature. Taking a picture below 13°C could result in a dark, muddy image with a blue/green cast and lacking contrast. Technically, the developer “goo” that spreads across the image as it is ejected from the camera is, more likely than not, to spread unevenly, creating white splotches, spidery lines and/or a snowy field of white specks on the finished picture.
Which is a dilemma if you live in Winnipeg, Canada as I do, where the winter lasts at least ffive months and the temperatures can dip into the minus 20s and 30s Celsius for days on end.
Packing my beautiful Polaroid folding SX-70 camera in a camera bag and waiting for summer to return, is not an option. I need to find a way that allows me successfully make a Polaroid picture in the midst of a cold prairie winter.
What follows is a video outlining what works for me and a few pictures taken using my cold weather technique.
David Firman’s new photography book, From Our Windows, tells a personal story of life contained within the four walls of his Wolseley home. Set during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, David uses a vintage Polaroid SX-70 camera to explore the relationship of sanctuary to the now-viral world outside—two worlds separated, yet tantalizingly connected, by thin sheets of window glass.
From Our Windows is a self-published hardcover book available through the author’s website at www.firmangallery.com.
This is the final set of Polaroids in my From Our Windows project. I could continue of course. It’s not as if the pandemic has suddenly vanished. But I am comfortable with what I have captured over the past three months. When I lay out my eighty-plus little framed images, I can see a complete story emerging. The next step? Preparing the book for publication. Stay tuned.
This is the third and final series of Polaroid SX-70 pictures altered with alcohol inks. It has been a curious exercise. Although I apply the inks as a single, tiny dot, how it spreads across the glossy surface of the photo is totally unpredictable and uncontrollable. How appropriate!
All photographs in my From Our Windows project were taken in May, June and July 2020 with a Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera, Alpha 1, Model 2 manufactured January 12, 1977. The film used for this project was Polaroid/Polaroid Originals Color SX-70 Film manufactured by Impossible BV in 2019/2020. All photographs were taken from the interior of my home on Raglan Road in Winnipeg.
This is the first of several experiments using alcohol inks to alter Polaroid SX-70 photos. The glossy Mylar image is the perfect receptor for these inks. I watch as a single drop of ink spreads out across the plastic surface unpredictably. I hope for a circle. I hope that another drop and another colour will blend as I think it should. But the reality is that the ink goes where it wants to go. It’s not in my control.