August 26th, 2015

Zun Lee’s Polaroid Archive Preserves African-American Self-Representation

© Zun Lee

The @faderesistance Instagram feed.

Photographer Zun Lee is dedicated to countering stereotypical, often negative views of the African-American family. While he was working on Father Figure, his book about African-American fathers, he stumbled on some old Polaroids that appeared to have fallen from a family photo album. He was intrigued to see how the Polaroids —”the Instagrams of their day,” he calls them — reflected “the way black people saw themselves in private spaces and in ways not intended to be seen, or judged, by others.” By searching yard sales and e-Bay, Lee has amassed 3,000 of these now “orphaned” mementoes and recently began posting them on a Tumbler and an Instagram feed named “Fade Resistance.”  After winning a Magnum Foundation Fellowship last week, Lee now plans to develop his Fade Resistance collection into an interactive digital archive that will allow the public and collaborators from other disciplines to add their own stories, videos and images. His long-term goal, he says, is “to encourage new ways of understanding black identity and representation in today’s world.”

courtesy of @faderesistance/Zun Lee Photo

A Polaroid as it appears on the @faderesistance feed.

The title of the project, Fade Resistance, echoes a phrase critic bell hooks used in an essay about vernacular African-American photography, in which she wrote that these snapshots are “sites of resistance” against pervasive stereotypical and racist depictions of African Americans. That the images were shot on Polaroid film appeals to Lee for a few reasons. First, he says, the instant cameras gave image makers the power to make their own narratives, without relying on a photographer or a lab. Also, the objects are one-of-a-kind, therefore more precious and fleeting, making preservation more urgent. In his proposal for the Magnum Foundation Fellowship, Lee wrote, “What had to happen to these families that they were no longer able to hold on to these valuable documents?” Lee scans the images as well as the notes written on the bottom or back of some images, which provide some clues to the subjects, and invite speculation: We can only wonder what happened to the man who wrote, “To Evelyn with love, hope and respect. Norris Turner. Good things come to those who wait. I’ve been waiting long enough (smile).”

On the @faderesistance Instagram feed, people frequently comment on the locations visible in the background of the images, as well as the hairstyles and clothing seen in the photos, which date from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Expanding the archive and its reach can help widen the search for more information about the stories behind each photo.

The Fellowship will allow Lee to work with the Brown Institute at Columbia University and collaborate with programmers on the development of the archive. In the future, he says, “multi-disciplinary collaboration would not only happen in the digital realm. I’m envisioning not just traditional print shows, but multimedia installations of this work in the future.”

The project may take years. Lee tells PDN, “I have a feeling this archive will be the gift that keeps on giving.” Until the interactive archive is complete, we can view —and enjoy—the photos of graduations, parties, beach outings and proud parents on Lee’s Tumblr and Instagram feed, and perhaps be reminded of our own special moments circa 1989.

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June 5th, 2013

$99 Bare-Bulb Flash From Polaroid?

polaroid-bare-bulbWith no press release and seemingly out of nowhere, a $99 bare-bulb flash has appeared on Amazon: the Polaroid PL-135. This is a good $300 less than even the cheapest bare-bulb flash and $700 less than the most basic Quantum Qflash kit. But what do you get for $99? Essentially, you get a generic AA powered speedlight with a guide number of 52 that has been turned into a bare-bulb flash. You do get basic Canon or Nikon TTL, or so it is claimed. There is a “power receptacle for an available external power pack,” but no details are given about what kind of a connection it uses or what power pack they may be referring to. A reflector and diffuser are included, as are a bag to carry the whole kit in. You won’t find the Polaroid PL-135 on Polaroid’s website, so don’t even look. These days, Polaroid is a shell of its former self. The Polaroid PL-135 is just the brainchild of one of their licensees, very likely designed and built without Polaroid having anything to do with it.

Does it work? Initial reports from around the web seem to say “Yes.” The quality of light is said to be nice, just like you expect from a bare-bulb flash. But you will have to deal with the slow recycling time and low power of a speedlight and the mediocre quality of a $99 off-brand product.

So will working pros rush to fill a void in their toolkit with the Polaroid PL-135? Doubtful. But at such a low price, it might just work for a one-off production piece for a particular job.

Price: $99 (as of this writing)

Related article:
6 Top-Notch Camera Flashes


September 27th, 2010

Dutch Group Announces New Color Instant Film For Polaroid Cameras

The Impossible Project, the Dutch group engineering new analog instant film for vintage Polaroid cameras, premiered a new color film last week at the Photokina imaging fair in Cologne, Germany. The company also announced a new black and white film for Polaroid 600 cameras, and used their film for the first time in the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera.

The color film, is dubbed the PX 70 Color Shade First Flush, was created with vintage SX 70 Polaroid cameras in mind, however the film can be used in Polaroid 600 cameras that have an exposure control.

Polaroid stopped producing instant film in February 2008. In 2009, The Impossible Project signed an 10-year lease on Polaroid’s former factory in Enschede, Netherlands, and began developing new analog instant film packs with all new chemistry and components, the first of which premiered this past spring.

This first color film offering from the Impossible Project is not without its quirks. For instance, once a photograph is made, the photographer has to shield the film from light immediately for up to two minutes. And instructions on The Impossible Project Web site also note that, “Initial spots or other anomalies in the picture will disappear after 24 hours.” Original Polaroid color film did not have these characteristics.

The PX 70 Color Shade film is currently being offered in a three-pack that totals 18 exposures for $44.

An image shot with PX 70 Color Shade film, courtesy The Impossible Project.

A new black and white film, the PX 600 Silver Shade UV+ for Polaroid 600 cameras, was announced as well. The new film, which will be available in October, features a UV sheet that the company says will improve image tones and increase the stability of the film.

The famed 20 x 24 Polaroid camera also made an appearance at Photokina. At an evening event The Impossible Project introduced its first experimental film for the camera and made nine portraits of guests at the event. The Impossible Project also renewed its commitment to making 20 x 24 material commercially available in the future.