Christopher Crawford's Polaroid SX-70 Project

For nearly thirty years, I have been working on a series of long-term projects documenting Indiana and the Midwestern United States with photographs and written stories. I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana's second largest city, in 1975 and have lived most of my life here. It is an interesting place, but one that is usually overlooked.

At the beginning of April, 2022 I decided to buy a forty-four year old Polaroid SX-70 camera to play with. It was made in 1978, the year my sister was born, and just three years after I was born! Manufactured in the United States from 1972 to 1981, the SX-70 was a unique and groundbreaking camera. It, and the later SLR 680 and 690 cameras that were based on it, was the only folding single-lens reflex camera ever made. The SX-70 was also the very first instant camera to produce a print that developed by itself without having to peel apart sheets of chemical-soaked paper. The process was clean and dry and you could watch the image develop!

Read more about the technical challenges of working with the Polaroid camera and film.

You can see the my non-Polaroid work at my Portfolio website, (opens in new browser tab).


Polaroid photograph of old toilets with flowers planted in them.
Toilet Flowerpots #1.



My Polaroid History

Someone gave me one of these cameras when I was in art school in the late 1990s, but I never used it for normal photography. The SX-70 film made back then remained 'soft' for several minutes after developing, and artists would push around the image with blunt objects to give surreal smeared images. I did a number of these SX-70 Manipulations, but never used the Polaroid for anything else.


Polaroid SX-70 manipulation of my grandparents house.
An SX-70 Manipulation. This was my grandparents' house in 1998; my son owns it now. Unfortunately, these manipulations can no longer be made; the new Polaroid films are not soft while developing like the older materials were.


When Polaroid went out of business in 2008, production of Polaroid film ended, making the cameras useless. I sold mine, thinking I would never be able to use it again. A few years later, a group of people bought the last Polaroid factory and the machinery in it with hope of restarting production. Because some of the materials needed to make Polaroid film were no longer available, and a lot of the intellectual property had been lost when Polaroid closed up, the new company had to basically reinvent the film. They called the venture The Impossible Project. Later, they were able to buy the rights to the Polaroid name. The early films made by The Impossible Project weren't very good, but over time improvements were made. By 2022, it was good enough to interest me in trying it. Because these cameras are now 40-50 years old, I decided to buy one from Retrospekt, one of several companies that are restoring and rebuilding these cameras. I also had them adjust the camera's exposure system to work with Polaroid 600 film, instead of the SX-70 film it was originally designed for. The two films are identical in all respects except for their light sensitivity (ISO film speed). I like to do low light work, and I have some health problems that make holding a camera steady during long exposures difficult, so the faster 600 film would be more suited to my work.