Not so Impossible: The Impossible Project Keeps Polaroid Alive

By Christie Sentner

Not many people in the camera business today would declare that the future is in analog, but luckily Florian Kaps and his team—dubbed The Impossible Project—are not concerned with following trends. From inception the project would be devoted to keeping a certain niche market alive in the increasingly digitalized world of photography—the niche market of Polaroid photography.

It all began when the Polaroid Corporation jumped on the digital bandwagon in February 2008, announcing its exit from the film business after 60 years. Back in October 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy after years of declining sales. With the discontinuance of Polaroid film cameras and the closure of several Polaroid production facilities around the world, many feared the imminent extinction of the iconic white-rimmed, 600 series film.

What is the Impossible Project?

Nvate Impossible Project Polaroid Florian Kaps

The Impossible Project truly got its start in June 2008 when Polaroid closed the doors to their factory in Enschede, Netherlands where for years the company had been producing consumer packs of the famous analog instant film. At the closing ceremony, Kaps—an Austrian-born, instant film enthusiast and former manager at the Lomographic Society—met André Bosman—Polaroid’s manager of engineering—at the seemingly doomed factory. Kaps and Bosman decided to join forces and take immediate action “against the death of instant photography,” according to the Impossible Project website. The first steps included purchasing machinery from the closing plant and moving production to a single building—downsizing from the original four buildings that Polaroid had previously occupied.

The Task of Creating New Film

Although these tasks demanded millions of dollars in private capital, they were not impossible. The real hurdle for the founders was to create a brand new film. The dyes and other chemicals necessary to create Polaroid film were no longer available, so The Impossible Project devoted an entire year to experimentation in hopes of inventing a new photo system. “Film experts doubted that this would be possible, chances that we would manage to reinvent a new photo system were 50-50,” Kaps said of the daunting task, hence the company’s mysterious namesake.

Latest News for the Impossible Project

Four years down the road the mission that seemed impossible is complete. Business is thriving with 2012 being a big year for The Impossible Project. In January the team collaborated with Polaroid to present the Polaroid Classic Line, which will feature six to 10 new products every year that draw inspiration from Polaroid’s signature style. The company also opened a new store in Manchester, England in May. Plans for the future include the launch of an 8 inch by 10 inch large-format film.

Where to buy Impossible Project Cameras and Film

Nvate Impossible Project Polaroid Florian Kaps

Photo on the left was taken by Dave Tuttle with the PZ 600 Silver Shade COLOR film. Photo on the right was taken by James Matthew Carroll with PX 680 COOL film.

Today, the company sells some of these vintage cameras, along with two types of Impossible Project film, Silver Shade and Color Shade, on their website. The most inexpensive Impossible Project film packs cost around $19 and contain eight pictures. This is far cheaper than the old Polaroid film sold on eBay, which can go for up to $90 for two packs or about $25 for a single pack. Cameras start at $149.99 on the Impossible Project website and cost upward of $469.99. Cameras and film can also be purchased at Urban Outfitters, which is an exclusive dealer of Impossible Project cameras and film. There are also countless other dealers scattered across the globe—a detailed list of these retailers can be found on the Impossible Project website. There are Impossible Project spaces in Tokyo, New York City, Paris and Vienna. These spaces house exhibitions as well as function as retail stores. Kaps remarks that France, the United States, and Japan are the three best selling markets “with extremely enthusiastic and passionate supporters and customers.”

How the Impossible Project Compares to Smartphone Technology

Nvate Impossible Project Polaroid Florian Kaps

Even though there is digital competition with applications like the trendy Instagram for the iPhone, which can spit out images with the same dreamy effects as instant film even more instantly, Kaps is not worried. “We are oversaturated with digital images. They are nothing special anymore,” he said. He said that The Impossible Project provides consumers with “everything they are looking for in a digital age,” which in photography means, “an original outcome that you can’t duplicate.” The images that slowly come to life on the Impossible Project’s film are indeed unique and perhaps not intended for the premeditative photographer. However, Kaps believes that with “passion, an understanding for the medium [and] a spirit of adventure” and an openness to “get to know the film,” anyone can be an instant film photographer.

So take the dusty Polaroid camera out of the back of your closet and consider the possibility of instant fun and snap away knowing that smartphone technology has not completely taken over this niche market. The Impossible Project succeeded in reinventing analog-integral film and breathing life back into countless old Polaroid cameras that would have been rendered obsolete.

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