PolaCon One in Review

Instant film lovers from all over the world gathered in North Texas last weekend to attend the first ever instant film convention called PolaCon. 

PolaCon began on Friday afternoon in Dallas at Don’s Used Photo Equipment for demos with Patrick Tobin of The Impossible Project. From there the crew met up in Deep Ellum for a mini PolaWalk to the Stair Fair, which has been a tradition of the Instant Film Society for last five years.

The instant film convention moved to Denton on Saturday morning with an early 8am Instant Film 101 Workshop and PolaWalk with Daniel Rodrigue, co-founder of the Instant Film Society. From 10am - 6pm, the old Evers Hardware building, where the Norman Roscoe pop-up shop resides, became home base for the film nerds that day. 

Jessica Reinhardt, Co-Host of The Instant Photo Show Podcast, kicked off the morning of learning with an Instant Film 101 Workshop session. Reinhardt shared some of her cameras and the history behind each one.  She also created an iconic and custom design of Dr. Edwin H. Land for a limited edition pin that was sold during PolaCon. (So glad I got one!)

There were instant film travel journal sessions, lift/transfer demonstrations, and a lot of folks mingling and getting know and photograph each other. There wasn’t a stranger in the room the entire day. Cameras of all sizes and types were present, too. Anything from large to small format (and several in-betweens), including a special 8x10 set up from Armand Kohandani, owner of Denton Camera Exchange. 

At 7pm on Saturday evening, the group met in Downtown Denton for a twilight photo walk with Toby (aka Twilight with Toby) that focused on sunset and dusk portraits with neon. Following in the instant film walk was a secret show in the back of Norman Roscoe. There were at least 40 people in this space, dancing and enjoying themselves in the midst of strobe lights and nonstop cold-wave beats brought to you by Dallas Distortion Music and Vogue Machine, DJ Dreamlover69, & DJ R Minick. 

Sunday morning picked up at 10am over at Denton Camera Exchange with owner Kohandani doing Mint Camera demonstrations. From noon - 3pm, Sarah Achor and Nolan Rogers, two Ohio-based artists, did an Expired Film 101 Workshop & Demo. Their demo included processing two different expired film types through a 4x5 camera. Achor and Rogers frankensteined the goo-pods on the film to manipulate the results of the exposed frames. The results ranged, as does anything with film (especially that which is expired). It was like watching magic happen right before my eyes, though. It is incredible to see the manipulation of expired film getting results you’d never have thought were possible.

Around 4pm, film folks reconvened at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center (aka the building everyone refers to as “The GDAC”) for multiple panels and discussions. The first panel, “The State of Emulsion,” included Tobin, Troy Bradford, Kohandani, James Eakins, and Rodrigue, moderated by Reinhardt. 

After the first panel, Rodrigue and Tobin sat down for a more intimate one-on-one discussion about the Impossible project and why shooting instant film is important to them. "I don't buy lottery tickets,” Rodrigue says, “I buy expired film.” 

The Impossible project has already sold more than 1.5 million packs of film this year. it is incredible to think that just a couple years ago they were selling under a million packs per year. As Tobin said, Impossible will never be the same scale as Polaroid from a production standpoint, but the growth each year is a treat to watch for instant film lovers everywhere.

Tobin also put some rumors to rest about the possibility of Spectra film discontinuing. “Impossible is not discontinuing Spectra,” he says. They should be releasing more Spectra film to retailers later this year, as it’s been available online only for some time now. 

After Tobin & Rodrigue concluded, keynote speakers Jason Lee and Chris Brown sat down with Reinhardt to discuss the first volume of their Refueled “The One Series” Instant Film photo book. The two announced that Volume 2 will be available for order next Spring and that they are pooling together 20 additional books from their private collections to be sold, as the photo books sold out within hours of becoming available online. “The One Series: Jason Lee Volume I” will be printed in a limited edition run of 500 copies. No more will be printed after those have been created.

Lee discussed the process of creating the book, the times they had to resize and reformat pages and images. The process, although long and tedious, was worth it. There were 5 copies of artist/publisher proofs available last night for purchase, and the books are absolutely beautiful. The paper is thick and rich, you can see the crisp detail on the photos as if you were holding the original prints in your hand.

One of the reasons Lee relocated to Texas is because of its central location. “All I've ever expected and experienced from Texas is the nicest people I've ever met," Lee says. He has a huge fascination with the South West and Americana lifestyle. Both Lee and Brown share a passion for all things Americana, which could be why the pair works so well together.

Creating Lee’s instant film book has inspired Brown to create more hardcover books through RF Books, a subsidiary of Refueled Magazine. Brown has had an extremely busy 2016, publishing a handful of different editions of the Refueled ONE Series (which are content heavy magazines that are on the upwards of 120+ pages). Lee’s book is the second Denton-based influence this year. "Never been a plan to pick one area or to just pick local talent,” Brown says.

Sunday evening concluded with a special acoustic performance from John Tipton of Heavy Hands, Jesse Thompson of Levi Cobb & The Big Smoke, and Robert Cody Maxwell of Robert Cody Maxwell and the Gentlemen Vain. 

All music and programming throughout this weekend was free to the public. Anyone could attend and there were no problems participating in the discussions and demos that interested you the most. For its first year, I’d say this was probably the most organized and intriguing non-festival convention I’ve been to. I cannot wait until next the 2nd annual convention that will happen next year.

Rodrigue and The Instant Film Society definitely gave us a weekend to remember. You couldn’t walk three steps without a unique photo opportunity. From a myriad of backdrops to performers dressed in bright streamers and paint, learning something new everywhere you went to meeting new friends and film geeks from all over, PolaCon 2016 was a satisfying successful weekend. Thank you to everyone who made the first annual PolaCon happen!

Photos and header image design by Sara Button