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Matinee: Matt Smith Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

1 September 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 255th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Instant Surf.

Matt Smith is a North Cornwall, UK, photographer who has been shooting Polaroids of the surf for 10 years. Which is more difficult than it sounds.

The surf isn't the problem. It's always ready to have its picture taken.

But restricting his medium to Polaroid photography is challenging both in finding working gear and unexposed packs of film. Consequently, Smith uses vintage cameras and expired films.

We see him with a Polaroid 195 in this clip, one of which we have stashed away in a closet at the bunker. It was acquired second-hand decades ago from a printing company's art department when they realized there were better ways to do things.

Smith has shot perhaps 3,500 Polaroids, he estimates, and is still enamored of the effect.

And they aren't easy to shoot with. You pull out the bellows and flip up the viewfinder. The 114mm f3.8 Tominon lens was one of Polaroid's more impressive options and the controls were intended to appeal to professionals, unlike the rest of the Polaroid line.

But the big deal about this camera is that it can expose Polaroid film. You pull the exposed 3.24x4.25-inch sheet out the side, wait a minute and peel it apart to see an instant image.

The peel-apart film packs are disappearing though. Fujifilm was the last company to produce them. Polaroid Originals does produce Polaroid film packs today but not the messy peel-apart ones that the 195 uses.

So Smith has taken to collecting expired film and storing it in his refrigerator (which we get a glimpse of). He jokes that it's like acquiring certain vintages of wine. Some years are better than others.

And he worries that when his stash is gone, the fun will be gone too. At about 10 exposures a shoot, though, he should be OK for a while.

He went through something similar with Polaroid cameras, too.

His collection spiked at about 50 and is now down to five or six (we'll bet it's six), he says. Finding one in working order is a quest worthy of a video game, though, so he refurbishes them. He isn't always successful but that's part of the charm.

And the images are charming. They take off from the reality a digicam might capture and, with the vagaries of onsite processing in the open air and the delicate color rendering that approaches pastels, provide an unmistakable impression of a place and a time that perhaps only existed in the mind of the photographer.

Smith has shot perhaps 3,500 Polaroids, he estimates, and is still enamored of the effect. And the magic of a moment in which the camera functions, the subject attracts and the image is captured.

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