The latest iteration of Daido Moriyama’s “Record”, number 13, arrived here at Japan Exposures a few weeks ago and upon diving into it’s black and white goodness, it was immediately apparent that there was something not quite the same with this issue. Could it be the number 13 working its unlucky magic? For starters, unlike previous issues and indeed 90% of Moriyama’s ouevre, the printing wasn’t full bleed, ie. there were actual white borders on the edges of the page. The design also didn’t exclusively feature the customary one photo per page layout of the other issues but had several spreads of smaller individual photos. But perhaps the most tell-tale sign that something different was afoot were the photos themselves, or more specifically, the texture — there was a noticeable lack of grain to the images. Unsettling indeed.
Returning to the cover we so hurriedly skipped past, we have the familiar Moriyama leitmotif of the reflected storefront window self-portrait. And herein lies the rub: Upon closer inspection, the camera obscuring Moriyama’s face seems a whole lot bigger than the Ricoh and Olympus point and shoots he normally carries — indeed, it’s big enough that Moriyama can be seen carrying using both of his hands to hold it. Wait a minute. That isn’t an old-school Polaroid Land camera he’s holding there, now is it? A flip to the afterword later, we get our confirmation:
The black-and-white shots featured in this issue were taken with FUJIFILM INSTANT B&W FP-400B film, using a POLAROID LAND CAMERA MODEL 180 that was given to me by a former student.
The 180 model is a Polaroid camera produced between 1965-1969 and accepts sub-4×5 in. size 100/660-Series Land Pack Films. Of course, Polaroid pack film is no longer with us, but it was long unknown outside of Japan that there is a substitute made by Fujifilm, in even greater variety (and arguably, quality) than the original Polaroid material. It is still readily available and offers may creative possibilities. How else otherwise would Moriyama have been able to impose his hallmark contrast and tonal range onto the photographs?
The Fujifilm instant pack films are the peel-apart type, which means you have control over the development time and with careful balancing of exposure and development there are endless creative possibilities. On top of that, these black and white instant films carry the suffix “Speedy” or “Super Speedy” which refers to the rapid development times which are around 15 to 30 seconds. Surely, anything longer would inhibit the creative process by slowing down the photographer. Now all you need to be careful about is to let their surface dry before stacking them together in your pocket.
It would seem that Bye Bye Polaroid was not the final farewell to Moriyama’s exploitation of instant films we thought it was.