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Today With Polaroid
For a little less money.
by Bob Hutchinson
I recently tripped to Old Town Savannah for a Holiday. Went only to the old town and skipped all of suburban Savannah so as to not taint my perception of the first planed city in America, 1734. A museum at one of the old squares was having an art fair in tents outside. Something kinda grabbed at me. I had seen these "photo art" items many times before in Santa Fe, Sedona, Flagstaff, and every tent art show or fair for the last 15 years or so.
Its the technique of Polaroid image transfer. I looked into this and, without going into all the Polaroid products, I counted just three basic formats for the feeding of Polaroid Corporation so one can participate and produce in the Polaroid arts. They are:
Well, for all practical purposes this is a 100% indoor activity. Here's why. after the image is exposed on Polaroid film material and during the processing, not after, the peeled off part with all the dyes and chemicals is applied to wet water color art paper with varying techniques to produce unusual images. OK, experts, I know this is an over simplification of the "art" but I am a beginner at this.
This process all but eliminates working in the field with original exposures. You need some minimum equipment to get started in this, keeping in mind all the wonderful digital scanning equipment available today. I'm not going to go into digital here, just the fun photographic equipment part.
Pick your format keeping in mind this important rule: Your images will originate from previous images and you will copy them to Polaroid materials. If you don't have a dark room with enlarger and Polaroid equipment you will need a copy arrangement to copy slides, negatives or flat material TO Polaroid 3 1/4 x 4 1/4, 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 format materials.
I was prepared to commit only very limited funds to dabble in this technique so I chose the 4 x 5 format because the finished product is big enough to scan well or hang. The 4 x 5 format has the greatest variety of films and inexpensive equipment available. Here's the basics:
Copy a color slide to 4 x 5 Polaroid material in a 4 x 5 film pack or holder, perhaps cropping in the process. It requires an inexpensive used 4 x 5 camera with bellows draw of 15" to 30", depending on the focal length of the el cheapo lens you are about to reverse mount to the lens board. The longer the focal length of the lens, the longer the bellows draw to achieve the desired minimum magnification ratio of 1:5. A ratio of 1:4 might enlarge a slide to 4 x 5 but if you want enlarge a section and crop you need more.
I bought a 4 x 5 Calumet off ebay. It is not a complete cameras as it is without the lower part of the two standards and monorail. Instead the upper standards are mounted to sliders mounted on an optical bench rail (see pictures). It has the Graphic type back, not Graflok. I bought a 49mm to 67mm step-up ring, drilled it in four places close to edge, used it for a template to drill and tap the lens board four times for #4 x 1/4" machine screws. I then carefully mounted the adapter without distorting it as it needs to be light tight. I sealed the perimeter with real black paint. This system provides a versatile 49mm male mounting thread for any REVERSED lens arrangement. All that is needed to mount a lens is a 49mm female thread.
Sure we reverse the lens. Trying to use a normal lens in a normal position is asking it to perform totally outside its intended design limits. We're going to put a slide on the proper side and at the proper distance from the nodal, a minimum of lens focal length, and pass light through it to expose the Polaroid film at the back end of the 4 x 5 camera.
I used the hacksaw and file on the slide copying gizmo ending up with the part that holds the slide glued to the little lens standard part of the bellows (see pictures). The other or rear standard that normally attached to the 35mm camera would be kissed up to the lens mounted to the 4 x 5.
I cut a piece of 1 1/4" aluminum tubing, trimmed and squared the ends laboriously to a length that would mount the bellows assembly perfectly aligned in front of the camera lens. At the proper spot in the center of the optical rail I drilled and tapped 1/4 - 20 for a 5 1/2" bolt to go through the 3/8" tripod mounting hole in the bellows assembly and the tube (about 4" tall) and into the rail. This provides a simple but sturdy mount for the bellows unit.
This arrangement, using the bellows attachment, allows me to move the entire assembly back and forth without changing the slide to lens setting. Once in place against the reversed lens I can adjust the slide to lens distance for focus on the ground glass. These 35mm bellows units are perfect for this but I'll bet the manufacturer never dreamed the product would be used on a 4 x 5.
After some consideration I removed a 65mm f6.3 Mamiya wide angle from a Mamiya Std. 23 press camera. This lens is in its own focusing mount and would be really hard to use in this mounting situation but I have the necessary 43mm to 49mm adapter to screw it right up to the 4 x 5 lens-board. Would I be able to get the slide close enough to the lens? The minimum slide to lens distance for this set up is 65mm, 40mm shorter than the Ektar.
There's just this tiny little problem - with the focusing mount on this lens it cannot be operated when close to the lens board. Well, where else can I find an inexpensive lens so well suited for copy camera use? I disassembled the lens and removed the entire focusing mount. What a puzzle, what a job. I had to saw, grind and finish to modify the back plate that holds the shutter release ring to the lens (see pictures). Click Larger >>>
All back together and it is ready for Polaroid "art" or any close up or macro copying operation on to any 4 x 5 film material. Roll film too with a Calumet C2 roll film holder. Any flash can be a light source. Another lens that would be less expensive that an Angulon or Rodenstock Grandagon would be the 58 or 60 mm Koni or Rapid Omega. Older lenses from 120 or 35mm cameras in the focal length range - 50mm to 75mm would probably be suitable if the filter ring can be adapted to what ever adapter you mount to the lens board. Any good enlarger lens in the same focal length range would work well even with out a shutter. You could darken the room, remove the dark slide from the holder, fire the flash and re-insert the dark slide.
I have come to enjoy the heavy aluminum optical table rail that all this is attached to. I is really nice to have a sturdy tabletop arrangement with everything attached together. If this projects becomes popular with me and I decide further improve the value of Polaroid stock - I may move way up into Polaroid 8 x 10 "art".
I will try to add to this project the ability to copy 120 size transparency materials using my 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graflex press camera body as the holder and the 65mm lens setup.