Tools & Toys

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While photography may be in the throes of an instant-image digital revolution, the more things change, the more others remain the same. Consider the Polaroid 20x24 camera, which was developed in 1977; it's 5 feet tall, it weighs 235 pounds and it's not budging in the face of more-modern technology. A rather exclusive item, with only five in the world -- in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass., and Prague -- it's been used by art and photography luminaries like Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, William Wegman and Chuck Close. But no matter your name, the 20x24 doesn't come to you, of course; you go to it.

Polaroid's downtown New York studio, for example, features a 950-square-foot shooting space, a built-in cyc and lighting system and a resident technical director (whose services are essential to the operation of the system) for about $1,100 a day, plus film (the camera accepts two grades of color film and one of black and white).

In-demand people-shooter Timothy Greenfield-Sanders makes the New York Polaroid studio one of his regular haunts -- allowing for the fact that this is the only full-size Fresnel viewing screen in town. "Scheduling can be a problem," he says. "I have to fight for the camera."

But some things are worth fighting for, even if they're so-20-years-ago. While the 20x24 may be "authentic analog equipment, the camera hasn't changed but the technology around it has," notes Greenfield-Sanders. "In the old days, the problem was, after you shoot the image, how to use it. You had to hang the print on a wall and photograph it and make a transparency. Now they can digitally scan the image on a flatbed with much less loss of quality."

Moreover, "There's a look you get from the film that you can't get anywhere else," says David Hunter, group creative director at FCB/San Francisco, who worked with Greenfield-Sanders and the big camera on the current 3Com Palm V "Simply Palm" portrait campaign. "It's softer, more delicate. It's very good for portraiture."

"It's the greatest way to make portraits," insists Greenfield-Sanders. "Portraits are about the interaction between subject and photographer. I like the subject to have feedback during the shoot," and with a full-size print available in little more than a minute, that's just what you get. Seeing the real thing "releases tension" in the sitter, he explains, which may not be the rule with the usual tiny test Polaroids. This could be especially useful when shooting nudes, as in the case of dancer Kate Hunter in the ad seen here.

Furthermore, the art director gets instant feedback, as well. Hunter's Palm V shoot was his first experience with the 20x24. Was he choosing Greenfield-Sanders or the camera? "A little of both," he muses. "I'm choosing Timothy because I like his pictures, but one of the reasons I like his pictures is he uses the camera."

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