May 28, 2020

#31: Shoot a Film Series with an Old Film Camera

adventure, portraits, travel, camera gear, bucket list

Polaroid Impulse Portraits

In the fall of 2017, I inherited my aunt’s Polaroid Impulse camera, a late 1980s relic. Definitely a novelty, it was also the perfect thing to accomplish one of the projects on my 50 by 50 list — shoot a photo series with an old film camera. 

In April of 2018, I traveled to Nepal to mountain bike the Annapurna Circuit. With a few extra days planned in the Kathmandu Valley, I thought it would be an ideal place for the series. At the time, I had been going deeper with locals interactions and knew this would be another way to continue to push my boundaries. I intended to keep the plan simple - meet someone, shoot a portrait, wait for the print to develop, shoot another portrait with the developed photo, and then hand it over as a gift.

I packed a few boxes of Polaroid 600 color film after doing some test shots at home. Knowing the developing process would take a minimum of 10-15 minutes, I realized that I would be able to interact with my subjects for more than just the usual amount of time to snap a photo. And this was actually great because it would mean the chance to make meaningful connections with the local people in Nepal.

The first photo happened on day 1 of the trip while riding with my guide/friend Mangal. We stopped at a little snack cart to have some fruit. After grabbing a few shots of the scene with my digital camera, I pulled out the Polaroid and waited patiently as Mangal explained what I wanted to do. Thankfully, he was more than happy (and really proud) to get his picture taken. I left the developing photo with him while we rode a couple of trails nearby. On the last shuttle run up the hill, we stopped again so I could take the second photo and give him the Polaroid to keep. After seeing the excitement on his face, I decided that I need to find room in my bikepacking gear to carry my aunt’s camera with me throughout the rest of the trip. It would mean leaving some other gear behind to make space for the bulky camera and its boxes of film.

Fast forward a few days later to the first day on the Annapurna Circuit and I’m trying to organize a crowd of kids who keep jumping and lunging for the Polaroid I have just taken of them. It was the moment I realized that it was totally worth it to ditch my extra-warm down coat for the opportunity to have unique local interactions. Although there were moments of confusion and uncertainty when I made the portraits, there were also plenty of smiles when I handed over the developed print.