No. 456

8 Exposures...with Laura Alice Watt

Patrick Tobin, | Jun 8, 12:00 PM

Welcome back to 8 Exposures, our instant film Q&A series. This week, we bring you California-based Laura Alice Watt

Q1) What kind of Polaroid camera(s) do you use?

A: The workhorse is my trusty SLR 680, looking a bit worse for wear these days as it’s usually my travel Polaroid. It’s kept company by a tan SX-70 (such an elegant creation!), a Spectra and an Automatic 250, plus packfilm camera backs for the Hasselblad and, most recently, Crown Graphic. Plenty of fine cams to choose from!

Q2) Why do you like instant photography?

A: There’s of course the relatively-instant gratification (compared to regular film, not digital) of seeing them develop, and the sheer tangibility of a pola, that it’s both an image and an object; for me, the biggest allure is the way these cameras and films “see.” Light glows differently through instant film than through any other kind, there’s just nothing else like it—all those Pola-Droid apps are sad, sad imitations at best—real instant film provides a unique and characteristic view of the world, a way of seeing the subject that directly enhances and contributes to its beauty or intrigue. And I like that sense of interaction, not only between photographer and subject but also through the distinctive medium of the film—and of course the serendipity.

Q3) What is your earliest memory of instant film?

A: I’m perhaps a bit unusual among instant photographers, in that I don’t have any nostalgic memories of polaroids from the past; both of my parents are fairly serious amateur photographers, and didn’t hold Polaroid in very high esteem when I was a kid, so my first camera was an Instamatic, followed by a Pentax. I suppose my earliest memory of instant film was seeing friends’ polaroids at school, but my first real experience with instant film was only five or six years ago, when I bought a One600 Ultra after admiring friends’ polaroids on Flickr. That was quickly replaced by a Spectra given to me by the fabulous Cate Rachford (later a co-founder of ‘Roid Week), who couldn’t stand seeing me not have a “real” Polaroid camera, and suddenly instant film and I took off together.

Q4) What’s your favorite Impossible film type?

A: I’m not sure I’ve settled on a favorite yet – they’ve all had their moments! Although I have to admit, I couldn’t care less about the frames; what’s important is the film. I was honored to be one of the testers of the very first incarnations of what became PX 100 and PX 600, and the sheer delight of NEW INSTANT FILM, after Polaroid’s unhappy demise, can’t be measured. The first beta-batch of PX 680 was pretty extraordinary, popping with clear rich colors. I still sometimes miss the weird misty-blues of the early PX 70, before “Push” came along (I’ve just never been a big one for pinks and purples). When the monochrome films work just right, they’re hauntingly, unreproduceably beautiful. And I’m always curious about the next batch that Impossible might cook up, especially as they’re honing in on improved stability and clarity—plus secretly wishing they can reinvent Choco 100 somehow…!!

Q5) What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

A: Hmm…I seem to take a lot of pictures of water, although not so many recently. Lots of trees, and rambling landscapes. Hard to go wrong with a magnolia. My REAL favorite subjects are my niece and nephew, but they live on the other side of the continent, so we don’t work together as often as I’d like! And if it seems like it’ll make an interesting photograph, I’ll try almost any subject.

Q6) Tell us about a project you’re working on.

A: I moved into a new house last year, and it’s nestled in among these truly fantastic oak trees, all twisty and gnarled branches reaching in every direction—so I seem to photographing them a bunch. Not sure they’re quite a project yet. I’ve also been slowly assembling a group of pastoral images, trying to convey the deep relationships between people and the land they work with—and trying (not necessarily succeeding, mind you) to portray them without getting lost in too much nostalgia or rosy-eyed romance. Instant films, of various sorts, seem to fit that project better than other mediums, although I’m gradually learning some alt-process printing methods, too.

Q7) Who are your favorite photographers, instant or otherwise?

A: Hard to choose, there are so many amazing ones! In my stack of photo-books, I keep reaching back to the Carleton Watkins images of the early early west, to Tina Modotti’s incredibly clear-eyed portraits, to Sally Mann’s heart-drenched landscapes and family chronicles. I think it was a Michael Kenna photo-calendar that I stumbled across years ago that first made me realize that “nature” photography was not restricted to Sierra Club calendars. And I’m kind of obsessed lately by Lynn Davis’ icebergs, plus the incredible flowers of Ron van Dongen. I’m a big photo-fan.

But mostly I’m a fan of the people who I sometimes go photographing WITH—Nick Morrison and Cate Rachford here in the Bay Area, Rom in NYC—they inspire me to see more, and differently, and there’s nothing better than a day spent out and about with cameras. And always looking forward to going shooting with someone new.

Q8) If you could take a photo of anyone or anything what would it be?

A: Whatever’s in front of me that seems intriguing…I’m easy.

About Laura

“I’m a professor of environmental studies and planning at Sonoma State University, at the northern end of the San Francisco Bay Area—where I’ve lived (in a variety of zip codes) since I was two, and have been photographing since I was eight.”

Thanks to Laura for taking part! To see more of her photography, please visit her Flickr Photostream and follow her on Twitter at @lawatt

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