I believe that it’s often better to spend money on experiences rather than new gear. Sometimes a book can be just as good as an experience; perhaps it can be an experience in and of itself. For Christmas my family gifted me three photography books, each one featuring the legendary photographer Ansel Adams. One of the three books was especially surprising: Polaroid Land Photography by Ansel Adams.
Did you know that Ansel Adams, the renown black-and-white landscape photographer who invented the Zone System and who was celebrated for his darkroom mastery, loved Polaroid photography? I didn’t. I was surprised to learn that one of his well-known Yosemite pictures was a Polaroid (Type 55), and this picture was found in one of the other two books I was gifted. Adams’ Polaroid book is a thorough and highly technical look at instant film. It’s the ultimate guide to Polaroid, at least from 1978 when this second edition was published. I want to share a few quotes from the book, then circle it back to this blog and Fujifilm.
“It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land camera as a ‘toy,’ a casual device for ‘fun’ pictures, or, at best, a gadget to make record pictures! The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography….”—Ansel Adams
It’s clear right from the beginning of the book that Adams considered the Polaroid camera a serious photographic tool. He felt it was under-appreciated and underutilized by the photographic community at large.
“By making it possible for the photographer to observe his work and his subject simultaneously, and by removing most of the manipulative barriers between the photographer and the photograph, it is hoped that many of the satisfactions of working in the early arts can be brought to a new group of photographers. The process must be concealed from—non-existent for—the photographer, who by definition need think of the art in taking and not in making photographs. In short, all that should be necessary to get a good picture is to take a good picture, and our task is to make that possible.”—Edwin H Land, co-founder of Polaroid
Adams included that Edward Land quote in Chapter 13, Principles of One-Step Photography, and he immediately followed it with this:
“The effect of one-step processing on both amateur and professional creative photography has been revolutionary.”—Ansel Adams
Polaroid Land Photography is an extensive user’s manual—Adams referred to it as such many times—yet it is full of inspiration, both in written words and great photography. There is so much that I could quote, but I will refrain myself and add just one more.
“As with all art forms, we must accept the limitations of the medium as well as revel in the advantages.”—Ansel Adams
I was reading all this as I was simultaneously celebrating the fact that I had so easily finished the pictures of my kids opening their Christmas presents. By finished, I mean finished. I captured the pictures, and in the time it takes most people to load their RAW files onto their PC or Mac, I had already uploaded them to my phone, put them into storage, and shared them to loved ones. Done. It occurred to me that this is the modern equivalent of one-step processing.
Over the last several months I have been pondering why my different film simulation recipes are so popular. Tens of thousands of photographers across the globe, from newbies to experienced pros, are using these camera settings on their Fujifilm cameras. I get feedback daily from people telling me how these recipes have changed their photographic lives. There’s been a very real impact that this blog has had on the photography continuum. Yet the why has been illusive to me, until today.
Polaroid changed photography 50, 60, 70 years ago. The biggest name in photography not only embraced it but called it revolutionary. There are a few parallels to Polaroid cameras and film simulation recipes on Fujifilm X cameras, but the biggest is perhaps one-step processing. Yes, if you shoot RAW+JPEG, you can always reprocess the RAW, but there is fun in not having to do so if you don’t want to. There’s a certain satisfaction, not to mention time saved, in having a completed picture right out of camera that needs no editing, or maybe only some small, quick adjustments. I wonder if Ansel Adams were still around today, if he would embrace the film simulation recipe the same as he did the Polaroid. Honestly, the answer isn’t important, because so many photographers are embracing it, and it’s revolutionizing photography.