The Possible Project

Adventures in the new instant films, and a look at the future!

On March 22 2010, in the Impossible Project space in New York, Florian Kaps unveiled the first products of the factory in Enschede: PX100 Silver Shade First Flush, a sepia-tinged monochrome instant film. It was characterised by a soft, often golden quality. It was very sensitive to light when ejected, as well as sensitive to temperature. But handled correctly, and the results are great. 

Next came the faster PX600 Silver Shade. Also monochrome, but this time with more contrast. As the year progressed they improved the formula. I love this film. 

Then came the colour films. The PX70 Color Shade First Flush was soft, blue tinted. In the autumn came the PX70 PUSH! film. This one tended towards pink tones. Handled well, colours come through. 

So far the colour films have seemed artistic, potentially a bit ‘niche’ for a wider audience. The Holy Grail is a film which is not too scared of light when ejected, not too worried by temperature. And a fuller range of colour. Ideally something like the nostalgic beauty of the original SX70 films. 

Ladies and gentlemen…


In the autumn of last year I entered a picture to an Impossible Project competition with the hope of being a beta tester for new film. I got through, and the film arrived in February. This first batch had an issue with white speckles (this is an issue with the first batch), but not with the colour. It’s gorgeous. The blues! The reds! A fuller report on my experiences with this to follow…

And this is just the first test film. The second batch is better still. It’s going to be a great year.

Rebecca Feiner – Memory

My friend Rebecca Feiner has a solo show at an amazing John Soane church in Bethnal Green in London running at the moment, with the last day on Thursday 3rd of March: It’s a moody installation of video, sound, projections, and is very evocative. Up the stairs, visitors are invited to write a memory on a luggage label and attach it to the bannister. Downstairs is her intimate velvet-lined wardrobe cinema; upstairs in the belfry a case filled with jars of hair. There’s an owl… The final night will have poetry, music and bell-ringing! Do go if you’re able.

Last Friday I documented it for her, and hopefully captured some of the mood in these pictures. And check out her website:

Save celluloid, for art’s sake | Art and design | The Guardian

On Tuesday last week, the staff at Soho Film Laboratory were told by their new owners, Deluxe, that they were stopping the printing of 16mm film, effective immediately. Len Thornton, who looks after 16mm, was told he could take no new orders. That was it: medium eviction without notice. This news will devastate my working life and that of many others, and means that I will have to take the production of my work for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commission out of Britain.

Soho Film Lab was the last professional lab to be printing 16mm in the UK. In recent years, as 16mm has grown as a medium for artists, the lab has been inundated with work, both from this country and abroad. Contrary to what people imagine, it is a growing and captive market, albeit a small one, with a new generation of younger artists turning to analogue technologies to make and show their work: Thornton says he handles work from more than 170 artists. Then there’s the effect that this will have on the BFI and their conservation of the many thousands of reels of Movietone news footage, television, documentaries, features and much else.

These last few days have been like having my bag stolen and remembering, bit by bit, what I had inside it. My relationship with the lab is an intimate one; they watch over my work, and are, in a sense, its protectors. I have made more than 40 films, and each one has several internegatives (a copy of the original negative). In the vaults of Soho Film Lab are racks packed high with cans containing my life’s work to date, including the negatives of films I never made. I order countless prints each year, as projecting my films on loop systems in museums and galleries inevitably means that they become scratched and exhausted. Thornton and his colleagues know the titles of all these films, and when I make a new film, I turn up at the lab and grade every colour in every scene. Film is chemistry: chemistry that has produced the miracle of the moving image. Decades of knowledge, skill and experience have gone into my saying, “I think that shot is too green, but the next one is too pink.”

Deluxe (who responded that they have “nothing to say at this time”) are, admittedly, ending only one tiny part of an ongoing process: they will not stop processing 16mm negative, and will continue to process and print 35mm. It is not as though they are giving up the chemicals and going dry. But they are stopping 16mm print because the cinema industry does not need it any more, and it is they who run the labs and are dictating that movies go digital and celluloid be phased out. Printing 16mm is an irritant to them, as it is time away from printing feature films, and features are the industry and all that matters. Pitched against this, art is voiceless and insignificant. My films are depictions of their subject and therefore closer to painting than they are to narrative cinema. I shoot on negative that is then taken to the lab, in much the same way you used to drop your photos off to be developed. The 16mm print I get back is called the rush print. The negative stays in the lab. Working alone on a cutting table over many weeks, I cut my film out of the rush print. Using tape, I stick the shots together, working as both artist and artisan. It is the heart of my process, and the way I form the film is intrinsically bound up with these solitary hours of watching, spooling and splicing.

When I have finished, I take my reel of taped film, now called my cutting copy, to a negative cutter, who cuts the original negative and delivers it to the lab, which then prints it as a film. My relationship to film begins at that moment of shooting, and ends in the moment of projection. Along the way, there are several stages of magical transformation that imbue the work with varying layers of intensity. This is why the film image is different from the digital image: it is not only emulsion versus pixels, or light versus electronics but something deeper – something to do with poetry.

Many of us are exhausted from grieving over the dismantling of analogue technologies. Digital is not better than analogue, but different. What we are asking for is co-existence: that analogue film might be allowed to remain an option for those who want it, and for the ascendency of one not to have to mean the extinguishing of the other.

The real crux of the difference is that artists exhibit, and so care about the final presentation and presence of the artwork in the space. Other professions have their work mediated into different formats: TV, magazines, billboards, books. It remains only in galleries and museums that the physical encounter is so critical, which is why artists, in the widest sense, are the most distressed by the obsolescence of analogue mediums. But it is also in these spaces that a younger generation born in the digital age are taking up analogue mediums in enormous numbers. At the recent Berlin art fair, 16mm film projections outnumbered digital projections by two to one.

The decision to end 16mm print at Soho Film Lab, newly named Deluxe Soho, seems to be worldwide policy (they have already ended 16mm printing in their labs in New York and Toronto), so it is unlikely we will be able to reverse the decision locally. I spent my weekend writing to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who are both understood to care about celluloid film, even 16mm. I am also trying to make contact through the Guggenheim with the US owner of Deluxe, Ron Perelman, who, as a patron of the arts, might not have understood the devastating impact this presumably financially negligible decision might have on a growing group of contemporary artists, the galleries and museums that show them and the national collections that own their work.

In the end, the decision is more cultural than fiscal, and needs to be taken away from the cinema industry. What we need in the UK is a specialist laboratory for conservation-quality 16mm and 35mm prints, possibly affiliated to the BFI. This needs to happen quickly, before the equipment, technology and experience is irreparably dismantled, and Deluxe must help with this. In the meantime, I will look to the last remaining labs in Europe to print my 16mm films.

Worth reading – why analogue matters in art, and why it’s important to keep the skills in film…

A nephew and two nieces

I spent Sunday with my sister and three of her children (the other is away at university). We had a fun time in the gardens of Cotehele in Cornwall, then went and had a big cream tea at Hotel Endsleigh in Devon. Of course I had some Polaroid cameras with me, and in my SLR680 I had some Impossible Project PX 600 UV+…


It was true then and continues to be true now; Dr. Land is a person with the drive and ability to legislate invention. It seems that all he needed to do was think enough about it and a scheme that seemed impossible to some people was already headed toward reality.

The Birth of SX-70: Recollections of one Design Engineer — A document on Scribd, discovered via Dave Bias.

Do you think Lady Gaga and her “creative team” at “Polaroid” are innovating like this? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Do you think Andre, Doc, and the team at the Impossible Project have dreams about instant film and come into work the next day, all fired up about creating something brilliant? I think they do.

Happy Labor Day to those whose work makes the world more a more beautiful and creative place!

(via jesshibb)