Vintage Satellite Camera

By Sheri Oneal

Recently I started looking through my gear for things I could possibly sell to regain some closet space. I found a huge box of polaroid (4×5, medium format and sx-70) that I had forgotten about many years ago with the change over to digital. I decided to take a day to just play, to set up a shot with the old untouched 4×5 I have contemplated getting rid of for years.

As I set up the tripod it amazed me how much I had forgotten in regards to using a 4×5 camera. I first had to locate the little screw adapter just to put the camera on the tripod, struggled with what lens I wanted to use and had to reacquaint myself to the swings and tilts of the camera. It was awkward focusing on the ground glass- upside down, backwards and dark. These were things that came second nature to me many years ago and as an assistant in my early 20’s, back then I was setting up 8×10 cameras to shoot for Macy’s and Red Lobster accounts.

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Once I had my shot set up I had the realization that my polaroid might not even render an image! I was amazed (and embarrassed) that one box had an expiration date of ’88. Several boxes had been given to me by a polaroid rep because it had passed it’s expiration date back in the day. I felt like a kid as I put the first polaroid in the polaroid back, carefully placed it behind the camera’s ground glass and considered my exposure with the reciprocity due to the bellows being fully extended. I wanted to shoot with available light and I wanted a long exposure so I shot with the modeling lights on. As I determined my exposure “guess,” set the f-stop I cocked the shutter and clicked the shutter release to a count of 25 seconds. I removed the back from the camera, turned the lever from load to process and with a gentle steady pull I removed the Polaroid from the Polaroid back. I couldn’t believe how excited I was with the anticipation of seeing what might be, then as I pulled the black paper apart…nothing. I repeated this through most of the boxes and found that the chemical that develops the image had dried up in most of them.  As I began to lose my excitement an image appeared with a Polaroid from type 55! In the day this was a B&W Polaroid loved and admired by 4×5 adventurers everywhere for the ability to produce a negative & positive image from one sheet! Over the course of an hour I went through the bulk of outdated boxes. Most were no good but to my surprise I did have satisfactory results with a few boxes including type 55, 59 and 52. Most did not have good color or did not expose a full image due to the chemical pod being partially dried up but as an artist I was excited at what I did get and saw art in every image.

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As I continued the process I kept the camera and subject the same. I decided I would scan each polaroid image and layer them on top of one another carefully selecting the parts of each that I liked best in photoshop until I eventually had an entire mix of an image I liked. These are the final images I chose to use for my scans…

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By scanning the best of all the polaroids I would be able to incorporate the different flaws and colors into one final image.

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My play day was wonderful, it tempted me, challenged me and inspired me! It teased my memory, and reminded me of the experience my past life as a photographer held before digital ever was. My senses came alive to the sound and feel of that old camera, something you don’t feel when shooting digital. The sound of the shutter as you cock it back, the sound of the click and the overwhelming size of the equipment. The smell of the Polaroid and the waiting…I now realize that there is a true excitement in not knowing, the anticipation of waiting 30 seconds or more to pull that paper and reveal a surprise. What a gift to have been able to experience that era in my creative life, it is unfortunate that these polaroid films are no longer available. The last six Type 55 and the box of newly opened 59 are going to be used up soon once I decide what my next subject will be, I wont allow years to go by only weeks and when I finally pull that final polaroid back I promise to be sure to showcase what is revealed into a one of a kind art piece that will not only capture the beauty of the film but also an era that has passed me by!

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