A few months ago (well, ok now that I look at it, it was last summer) – August 2015 to be more precise, I purchased some New 55 film. This was a Kickstarter project to create a modern version of Polaroid’s Type 55 film which was an incredible product that in just a few minutes created a positive print as well as a negative. The negatives that came from Polaroid’s Type 55 were just about flawless. Low ISO mean almost non existent grain and having a negative developed instantly meant less work in the darkroom and ease of reproduction. It was truly a genius invention. And why all large format film processing didn’t end up like this, I’ll never know.
But now enter New 55, a truly herculean effort to restart this process without any of the original equipment from Polaroid. The Kickstarter updates have always decried a lack of money to maintain operations and in order to raise some more capital, they started to sell some of their early batches of film. Even as a supporter of this project through an early donation, I was anxious to try out the film and see how it would work! I purchased a box to get my hands on some because, as it turned out, my 3 boxes of film promised as a Kickstarter reward would not arrive until just about 2 weeks ago.
So, last August on a warm summer morning, i ventured out with my friend Nori to make some photos in the Delaware Water Gap. I’ve got some secret spots that I love to use. And after we got up there and I started setting up the large format camera, I realized that I didn’t have my tripod mount plate. Without this, I had no way to securely mount the camera on the tripod. And shooting large format at 1/4 second is something that’s not easily done hand held.
But we had driven all this way to get something interesting and experiment with this early batch of New 55 film. So, i tried my best to steady the camera balanced on the tripod and give it a go. I think I shot 2 or 3 of the New 55 film sheets. After I got home, I was eager to process the shots and witness the magic of New 55. But my results were truly mixed. Of the photos I made, only 1 of the New 55 sheets actually produced an image. And, although the scanned negative is somewhat interesting, I wasn’t very impressed with the results I got from the film.
My first impression of the film left a kind of sour taste in my mouth and I hadn’t touched it since. When I got notice from New 55 that my Kickstarter rewards were going to ship, I was promised that this was version 2.0, everything was much improved! So I was excited to try it again and had the perfect opportunity with an upcoming workshop I was about to help teach. I asked each of the models if I could have 5-10 minutes with them to make a photo with the new and improved New 55. I shot 4 sheets yesterday and brought them home to process them in my darkroom. When I peeled apart the first sheet, there was nothing. A bunch of grey goo on the print and a clear negative. So, it was almost a totally black negative. Could I have possibly underexposed that much? Not likely given that I carefully metered at ISO 50 and double- and triple- checked my camera setting. But maybe I made a mistake when I shot this one sheet. So, I developed the second sheet, pulled it carefully through the rollers, 2 minutes development time, peel apart and another blob of grey goo on the print and a clear negative. I was starting to get that sinking feeling in my stomach that I wasn’t going to get much of anything out of New 55 v2.0. The third negative actually had an image, but there was a large streak across the top of the frame where the paper had stuck to the negative. It appeared to be a salvageable image, but fundamentally flawed. I had hope for the fourth sheet, but after processing it was all grey goo and clear negatives.
I honestly don’t know who these people are over at the New 55 Instagram account that are posting these much-closer-to-flawless images, but I am certainly not getting the kind of results that they are. A 75% failure rate is certainly disappointing. And I’m trying to figure out if it’s something I’m doing wrong, or my film holder is flawed in some way. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that I didn’t process the images right away and waited a few hours until I was back home. It’s hard to say. I have one more sheet from my first box and two more boxes that haven’t been used yet. I’ll continue to experiment and see if I can get better results next time.
© 2016 Scott Nichol
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And we mean strictly!