Fashion Photography’s Salute To The Humble Film: 180 – 8 X 10 Polaroid Works by Harlim Djauhar Winata
The announced bankruptcy of camera film giant Kodak this year has been an impending sign that the role of analog photography is being heavily questioned. Beyond its current place as a novelty that harks back to vintage memorabilia, and perhaps comically ‘mimicked’ by digital platforms like Instagram, film had lost its footing in the image-making world.After all, film can be expensive, development is slow, and unlike digital cameras, there is no immediate feedback to satiate our impulsive and impatient desires. Infinite opportunities to obtain the perfect shot have lulled us to a state of carelessness, propelled further by the capabilities of post-production, image editing software. Leave it then to commercial and fashion photographer Harlim Djauhar Winata to send a stellar salute to this dying branch of photography.
Dubbed “180 – 8 X 10 Polaroid Works”, Djauhar Winata has created a stunning collection of polaroids using 12 boxes of Polaroid 903 black and white film. Taking 180 shots, he selected 50, compiled them together, and launched an exhibition and book around what is obviously an extraordinary project. Featuring timeless editorial shots, the photo collection is a testimony to meticulous planning and visionary determination, unfettered by photoshop perfectionism with unapologetically grainy texture. Djauhar Winata talks about the project, from its symbolism, to moments of hesitation, to the beginning of his relationship with film.
Working with film obviously means that you have a finite number of chances to create the perfect shot. Can you talk about the efforts that went into the general planning and execution process?
One of the biggest challenges we had was to manage the people and their busy schedule. Each photo is the product of team work where dozens of people are gathered to work for hours and hours on end for one shot. As I am very attentive to detail and since no photo retouch is done to the images, very careful and precise planning is required. For example, we had a shoot on set with a parachute. It took the crew almost twenty hours to get the first shot done, since you have to pull the strings with the wind blowing and capture that very fleeting moment on film.
What are some of the specific challenges you have found working with the Polaroid 8 X 10 black and white film format?
It was difficult to source the film, as Polaroid, the company, had already ceased production of that specific format back in 2008. Also, the films that I bought had all expired already. Despite the high price of the film, nobody could guarantee the condition of the film upon this project’s undertaking. The risk was quite high. That said, I decided that the Polaroid 803 black and white film would have preserved its qualities better compared to color film.
How did you acquire the specific Polaroid films?
I bought them at my friend’s shop name Filme. They’re known for selling Polaroid and the owner is also an analog photography fan. I bought them for fun after I got the camera in Japan and it was until I took the first photo with the film that I decided to create an entire project around it.
What role does film photography play in an increasingly digital world?
I see film photography as playing a more passive and less prominent role, as digital photography including photoshop is too convenient and common these days. In reality, not everyone has the luxury in terms of time and money to dabble in film photography. For me, the output of film photography after processing makes every photo unique and I see it as art.
Why is planning so important to the discipline of photography?
Think of it as planning for a trip: while you are more than welcome to enjoy a spontaneous holiday with little to no preparation, it is always better if you can plan the itinerary ahead of time. That way, you make the best out of what you have.
Did working entirely in this limited film format make you question and hesitate in your artistic vision for specific shots?
I have to admit there are some limitations but I tried not to be limited by the boundaries. It was a challenge, and some people call me crazy for it, to attempt motion shots with the Polaroid and no photo retouching. Fortunately, I had a digital camera set up to do any test shots before we used the actual Polaroids.
Looking now at all of your images collectively, which one resonates with you the most?
The image with the model walking in the wind and her shadow projected. It’s hard to describe in words but the shot was done at the beginning of the project and I felt that was exactly what I want to achieve when I had the set built.
When was your first experience with photography? Was it with film? What emotions and reactions did you have?
My first experience was when I was a kid in primary school, when my parents gave me a broken Konica camera. The light meter was damaged which forced me to learn about aperture, exposure and shutter speed in order to get a good picture. Not being able to afford expensive equipment, I started playing around with light using an old desk lamp, placing the lamp at different angles and distances to a subject to observe the different effects.
Do you feel that you have developed as an artist having undergone this project? How so?
I’ve always been a commercial photographer and delivering what the client wants and needs. By defining my own boundaries doing my own project and having my solo exhibition and book, I feel I have had the luxury and freedom to create the things I like and fully believe in.
Out of all the shots available, which one was the hardest and most difficult to execute?
The most difficult shots were done in a desert in Beijing. We flew a team of people for some outdoor shots and rented minivans purely for processing the film. We realized doing outdoor shots especially in a remote area like the desert was more challenging than we expected. Only a few shots from that trip were chosen for the project but the cost of producing these shots was the highest.
What feelings and thoughts did you have when you clicked the shutter and took your final exposure?
“Yes, we finally did it” was what I had in mind. It’s been a long, long journey with many sleepless nights…
To learn more about 180 – 8 X 10 Polaroid Works online, please visit Filme. The book is also available for retail in Hong Kong at Page One, Apollo Book, and WDSG.