9 Reasons To Love Packfilm
Why photographers want to save the last instant peel-apart film
FUJIFILM recently announced it had ceased production of FP-100C, the last available packfilm, which prompted many instant photographers to begin stockpiling the film while lamenting its demise.
A few of those photographers had a different reaction. A question, really: What would it take to save packfilm? It’s been just over a week since Fuji’s announcement, and there’s already a petition with more than 11,000 signatures and a growing movement anchored by savepackfilm.net, which says:
We respect Fuji’s strategic business decision, but ask its management to engage with third parties who are interested in acquiring some of the manufacturing equipment in an effort to restart production at a smaller scale. We know Fuji sells hundreds of thousands of packs of FP-100C annually and believe it could be a viable business for a startup company.
For the uninitiated, it’s sometimes hard to understand why modern photographers would insist on preserving analog formats. But the reasons for saving a film like FP-100C are many, and I asked a few thoughtful photographers to share why they love this endangered art form.
1. Magical moments
It’s not a conversation about instant film until someone says the word “magic,” and there’s something especially remarkable about peeling a colorful print from a negative exposed just moments before.
“FP-100C is incredibly sharp, with true-to-life colors and next to no grain,” says Rachel James. “When the light is just right, and you focus your camera within its own special sweet spot — the resulting glossy print never looks quite like the one shot before. It’s one of a kind and absolutely beautiful.”
“Sometimes I get lucky and film, light and emulsion combine in magically unexpected ways,” Anne Bowerman says. That serendipity is part of the charm.
2. Mindful rituals
From the slow food movement to the popularity of coloring books among adults, decidedly offline activities help us balance our fast-paced, technology-centric lives with moments of clarity and focus. “The camera slows me down and I’m completely in the here and now — it’s like meditation,” Ina Echternach says.
Echternach isn’t alone. Patti Smith uses her vintage Polaroid camera for the same reason:
“Sometimes, if I crave silence I turn to my Land 250. The experience of taking Polaroids connects me with the moment. They are souvenirs of a joyful solitude.”
“The ritual of shooting packfilm is one of the things I love best about it: The unfolding of the camera, the solid ‘thwack’ of the shutter, the ‘fripppp’ of the film being pulled through the rollers and the peeling of the image,” says Bowerman.
This type of image-making is not as easy as pressing a button on a smartphone screen, but that’s kind of the point.
3. Sensory appeal
“There is nothing more satisfying than the ‘ping’ it makes when you pull the film through the rollers,” Heather Polley says. This particular instant film format provides an experience that can appeal to all the senses. “The smell. The way peel-apart film smells is dead sexy for me,” Heather Champ says.
Of course, for photographers, visual aesthetics are everything, and these vintage Polaroid cameras are showstoppers. “I think packfilm cameras are among the most beautiful and iconic film cameras out there,” Celina Innocent says.
Polley says her camera is “a beautiful work of art that still gives consistent results with one click of the shutter, despite its age. It breaks my heart to think of a day when there won’t be film for it.”
4. A different kind of social media
A walk down the street is a completely different experience when you’re carrying a vintage Land camera. People stop to ask questions — usually along the lines of “Can you still get film for that?” — and are eager to share their own memories of instant photography.
“I love the way [these cameras] draw people in,” says Meredith Wilson. “They are perfect conversation starters.”
Travelers often find that instant film cameras open the door to new friendships and understanding when visiting other countries and are especially useful in remote areas of the world. “Instant film allows us the opportunity to travel with a camera to areas where it is impossible to lug a laptop and printer, or keep digital camera batteries charged, and still have physical prints to share immediately,” Jes Shimek says.
5. Analog authenticity
With instant film, there’s no retouching and retakes are rare. This approach — so completely different than the limitlessness of digital photography — tends to generate photos that feel remarkably genuine. “It captures real moments that are not manufactured,” Ben Innocent says.
6. Artistic options
“Photographers use different cameras and their associated films or pixels to create their own ‘voice.’ In that respect cameras are like instruments in an orchestra. They work together to give a wider range of expression,” Hilary Clarke says. Removing violins from an orchestra is unthinkable, and for photographers, the loss of instant film would leave a similar void. “We need individual voices to be encouraged or else art will become bland and uniform,” says Clarke.
The flexibility of a film like FP-100c —which allows for manipulations like negative bleaching and image transfers — give artists a wide range of options for developing distinctive styles.
“I really love that in addition to shooting it in a camera, it can be used in the old slide printers. I have had so much fun printing my dad’s old slides and found slides,” Juli Werner says.
Sure, there are plenty of digital editing tools for photography, and they can coexist alongside analog tools like instant film … just as violins live in the same musical universe as software like GarageBand.
7. Unique artifacts
One of the joys of instant photography is in the physical object. “It’s tangible. You can hand it to someone or place it in a book to come across later,” Azuree Wiitala says.
“If we don’t scan them they are the only ones in the universe,” Ben Innocent says. While the photos can be scanned and shared online easily, there’s something special about holding a true original in your hand.
8. Timeless innovation
Think analog photography isn’t sophisticated technology? Think again. The advanced chemistry in every small rectangle of peel-apart film is “the most drop-dead simple rocket science magic you’ll ever hold in your hand,” Patrick J. Clarke says. But when Polaroid designed its Land cameras, it designed the ultimate user experience: “It’s even got numbers on the camera so you don’t screw up,” Clarke says.
On the other end of the spectrum, Polaroid’s Big Shot is “a bizarre looking grey tube connecting film and a single-element plastic lens, with one shutter speed and fixed focus. It was the cheapest, simplest camera in the company’s history,” Paul Ravenscroft says. “Subjects in the portraits it produces glow with crisp, natural tones, yet the images retain that unique instant feel. Any film that can squeeze such magic from a bargain drugstore toy has to be considered a work of genius.”
9. Creative legacy
“We can all pretend to be Andy Warhol when shooting with a Big Shot,” Toby Hancock says. From Louis Mendes’ street portraits and Carrie Mae Weems’ triptychs to test photos and vacation snapshots, packfilm has a rich cultural history … and with any luck, this film’s story isn’t finished yet.
The people who want to save packfilm aren’t luddites or hipsters. They’re creative souls who are inspired by the magic of instant photography.
Many thanks to the following photographers, who contributed words and images to this story:
Anne Bowerman (New York City) · Heather Champ (Portland, Ore.) · Hilary Clarke (Manchester, U.K.) · Patrick J. Clarke (Temecula, Calif.) · Ina Echternach (Bonn, Germany) · Toby Hancock (Los Angeles) · Ben Innocent (Boise, Idaho) · Celina Innocent (Boise, Idaho) · Rachel James (Silver Spring, Md.) · Heather Polley (San Francisco) · Paul Ravenscroft (London) · Jes Shimek (Minneapolis) · Juli Werner (Santa Fe, N.M.) · Azuree Wiitala (Chicago) · Meredith Wilson (London)