“See the fringe at the top is where the pod breaks. I just love the look if it and i think its the signature of the camera. I used to have to fight with them that if they show my pictures they had to let the goo show.” (Elsa Dorfman)
The most spectacular instant camera has to be the Polaroid 20×24. Created in the 70s in a exciting vibrant ‘can do’ environment at Polaroid, the 20×24 is a fantastic photographic feat. An even larger beast, the 40×80 was also created, but the 20×24 still manages to capture people’s imaginations, maybe due to it’s slightly more portability,the 40×80 was almost just a room with a lens attached to one of the walls, and wasn’t exactly portable! At least the 20×24 has wheels…
Elsa Dorfman, one of the original renters of a 20×24 talks about her love for the camera and the amazing instant pictures (often incredibly detailed portraits) that the camera produces. Image a handheld Land camera that has eaten an Alice in Wonderland Eat Me growing cake and you can picture this machine. At the top of each photo is a slight chemical drip line, what Elsa calls the “fringe”, this is created by the huge pod of developing fluid, broken as the blanket of film, $200 a sheet, is pulled through large rollers. This effect both illustrates the vast size and also serves to remind you that this is an instant photograph inviting a comparison with its diminutive and portable cousins. The camera was originally made as a device to showcase the potential of the polaroid, but now it has been adopted by photographic artists, and at one time was used to photograph original works of art at galleries and museums.
The rarity of the camera means that you can’t buy it; it is usually offered for rental at a studio for $1,000 a day and $200 per exposure. Elsa comments that she hasn’t moved the camera “more than five times, and now i would never move (it) and now that everybody has retired I would never risk anything happening to the camera”. The good news is that, a new 20×24 has been born! Mammoth Cameras have built, from scratch, a brand new 20×24 for a private client in Paris. You can see more shots of the camera and how it was made here.
However, although the cameras are fairly limited (mammoth could build another to order), there is still quite a supply of film available. John Reuter at 20×24 Studio bought up all the remaining film from Polaroid before their implosion (much like Polapremium did with ‘small’ film). The film comes in two 50 and 150 foot rolls of positive and negative film, which are combined,cut, packaged and a pod of reagent (developer) attached. The reagent only lasts up to a year in their pods, which left 20×24 with a dilemma: they have years worth of film left, but could only use it for 12 months. They bought the machines from Polaroid that were required to create the regeant, fill pods, and spool & package the film. 20×24 are confident they are only weeks from successfully achieving this (take a look at 20×24 studios facebook photos). And what about the finite film supply? 20×24 studio recently commented on facebook “that is several years off. I am confident there will be an alternative by then.” Excellent news! So as long as the camera survives (which can now be manufactured), these beautiful and monstrous instants can be created, long live 20×24!
What about the history of the 20×24? How was it conceived? Over the weekend..
One Friday afternoon in 1978, Dr Edwin Land, creator of instant film,founding father of Polaroid, and all together a neato guy, was stumped. Not content with creating genuine classic products (instant film,SX-70,Land cameras etc), and definitely not resting on his laurels, Dr Land was rather perplexed with people, and more pertinently the demands of his stockholders. Facing an incredibly important board meeting on the following Monday, Dr Land had to prove to the investors the capacity of his colour instant film. Faced with this, he asked his engineers to produce the 20×24 camera over the space of the weekend in their tool shop from random parts they had lying around (the stands are from old Polaroid copy cameras and Elsa thinks the wheels are from the local hardware store!). And sure enough, he convinced the shareholders with the giant camera. As mentioned, there are six original cameras: 20×24 Studio,New York;Elsa Dorfman in Boston;20×24 Studio West , San Francisco; Prague; Havard; and one that switches between various art schools.
The camera tends to be paired with a 600mm or 800mm lens depending on the situation, and the most used lens is the 600mm f11 Apochromatic Fujinon in a Copal 3 shutter(1). There are three different types of film available: B&W 400ISO; Colour 100ISO (Polacolor Pro); and ‘Chocolate’, a sepia style film, which combines the colour negative with the b&w positive. It takes anywhere between 60-90 seconds for the film to develop once it has been forced through the rollers on the machine and cut using a standard box cutter (Elsa Dorfman indeed remarks “Where you cut it at the edge it would be easier to have a slicer there.” while she is cutting the film).
The cameras based in the studios are used by all different types of photographers, ranging from commercial advertisers, through to intimate private portraits, even the TV show ‘Make me a Supermodel’ used the 20×24 as a challenge (the models only had one photograph each with it). They are continually drawn back to the 20×24 due to the intimate process involved in capturing an image, imagine ‘the big reveal’ you get with your standard pack film, but on a massive scale. Your final artwork is in front of you after 90 seconds development.
Would a camera like this be built in today’s ‘bottom line’ society? Probably not, but we can be thankful that we still have these cameras around to remind us of everything Polaroid stood for. We’ll leave you with another quote from Dorfman, who sums up the 20×24:
“For me, its like a great machine, and it really reflects the time, i think, in corporate history when a guy who was the head of a company and he wanted something and he could go to his tool shop on a friday afternoon and say “by monday i want a camera called the 20×24″ and they would all work like dogs all weekend and make it.
I think this is the best camera in the world don’t you? Thankyou edwin land.” (Elsa Dorfman).
20×24 Studio NY -Studio for hire, manufacturer of the chemicals. (I’m already saving my pennies to go there!).
Elsa Dorfman -Elsa’s personal site with some information on her camera and studio.
Mammoth Camera -the site for 20×24 West, studio and camera for hire.
20×24 Studio’s Facebook- Up to date photos and info