Berlin-based photographer Noemi Heidel on the Polaroid SX-70
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
In my main job as a consultant in a publishing and advertising business, I have been booking photographers for editorial or commercial shoots for many years, but I only started taking my own photography seriously about one year ago when I bought my beloved Polaroid SX-70.
Discovering instant photography was a surprising and, honestly, a life-changing experience. Shooting with an old camera with only a few features and with a limited amount of film available, having to patiently wait for the film to develop … all this taught me to rediscover slowness. Photography became my personal little escape from a world of constant action and sensory overload.
I started sharing my pictures and I’m very thankful I got the opportunity to exhibit my work at international exhibitions (like Instant Cologne, Instant Art Paris and ISO600 in Bologna) and to be featured in amazing publications (such as the official Polaroid Book Polaroid Now or the Polazine Book, to name a couple). [Please note that exhibitions have been affected by COVID-19. Check websites for updates.]
What’s your experience with the Polaroid SX-70?
I started shooting Polaroid with a new Polaroid One Step+ but I hardly managed to get those lovely retro colours I knew from the snapshots of my childhood … So, about one year ago I dared to go one step further and got myself a beautiful old SX-70 from a French photographer I knew from Instagram. I knew a lot of beautiful pictures he had made with exactly this camera and about all the exotic places it had been taken to.
I had read about the epic tradition of the SX-70 and all the amazing people who have been using it in the past, so I was almost a bit intimidated in the beginning. But then it was love at first sight!
Even though I wasted a lot of film getting to know the camera, I was so fascinated by the dreamy aesthetic of the pictures that I just couldn’t stop shooting with it. It took me a while to gain some control over the camera, and even now I must admit that this camera and film are a bit of a mystery for me, with the results still being almost unpredictable.
I particularly love the surprising colours and the charming failures of the SX-70 film, like streaks or parts of the photograph not fully developing.
My best experience so far was shooting on a remote little island in the Philippines. It was very hot and humid and there was no electricity, so there was no chance to keep the films cool … But it turned out that the chemicals reacted beautifully: everything came out in pink and purple, which perfectly fit with the dreamlike landscape; very inspiring!
This brought me to experimenting with temperature, which is quite fun – but again: unpredictable! Even though it will soon be time for me to try out a different model that allows me to use Polaroid 600 film, the SX-70 will always have a special place in my heart.
Do you use any accessories with your Polaroid SX-70?
I tried the Polaroid ND [neutral-density] filter in order to be able to use 600 film. I think this is really cool as it allows you to work with a bigger variety of expired film, which is something I want to experiment with more in the future.
I use a self-timer for self-portraits, but what I really need to buy is the remote shutter button, to avoid moving the camera while pressing the shutter release and get sharper pictures.
Also, I’d like to try out the SX-70 close-up lens to be able to shoot from an even smaller distance without losing sharpness.
What do you like/dislike about the Polaroid SX-70?
I love the compact design, it’s a beautiful camera, easy to carry around, which is quite important to me as I like to shoot outdoors and have my camera with me whenever possible. Despite being slim and foldable, it’s an SLR camera with manual focus – which makes it a little treasure in my eyes. Also, as I like to capture details, I appreciate the minimum focus distance of 10.4 inches that allows me to get very close to my (vegetable) models and still get candid images.
I always feel guilty for our planet when opening a new film package knowing that each film contains a battery, which is quite a waste … But I heard this problem can be solved by using an external battery — something I definitely have to check out!
I had read about the epic tradition of the Polaroid SX-70 and all the amazing people who have been using it in the past, so I was almost a bit intimidated in the beginning. But then it was love at first sight!
How would you summarise the Polaroid SX-70?
The Polaroid SX-70 is an absolute classic, a cult object and style icon. I just love it; in my eyes it is a must-have for everyone serious about instant photography. However, as it is a little tricky to use, I’d say some experience with a lower-end instant camera is recommended.
See more of Noemi’s work @noemiheidel