Polacon could be the latest addition to the list of great festivals and conventions to call Denton home, except that one of the biggest days of the convention — the world's first celebrating instant film photography — will take place in Deep Ellum and Fair Park. It's entirely free to participate in Polacon, which will run from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.
The convention aims to expose new audiences to instant film and bring existing fans of the medium together, Daniel Rodrigue says. Its inception dates back to a joke made a few years ago at the annual PolaWalk, a meetup at the State Fair, by several of its organizers and attendees.
The fifth annual PolaWalk has been absorbed into the convention and is the reason for the meet-up in Deep Ellum on Friday, the 30th. The event always takes place on the first day of the fair and involves scavenger hunts in which participants are challenged to take photographs of particular scenes, such as a police officer with a doughnut.
The appeal of instant film in a digital era is its intimacy, Rodrigue says. There’s something special about releasing the camera shutter and immediately having a physical copy of that moment in your hands. The cameras encourage intimate photos because they require the photographer to be close to the subject. “It’s a moment that you share with the subject,” he says. “It’s this one-of-a-kind thing.”
So how do you get a police officer to agree to a photo that involves a doughnut, much less an invasion of personal space? Rodrigue says it’s quite simple: Offer to take a second picture that the officer can keep. The ability to instantly share a physical copy is unique to the format. It’s basically a low-tech version of Instagram.
Saturday and Sunday will be hosted in Denton around the historic downtown square and at the Greater Denton Arts Council building on Hickory Street. Events will include workshops, camera swaps, demos and a pop-up museum detailing the history of instant film. Attendance is free but because of limited seating the organizers have set up a website for RSVPs.
Rodrigue says actor, photographer and Dentonite Jason Lee will be attending the event to debut his new book of instant film shots and participate in a Q&A. Lee will also demo his massive and ultra-rare camera that shoots 20x24 inch film, as long as they can find stock for it.
Polaroid put a halt to their film enterprises back in 2008 and earlier this year Fujifilm made a similar move by limiting their production of instant film to their popular Instax cameras. Fortunately, The Impossible Project stepped in a few years back to keep the instant film world spinning.
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Patrick Tobin from The Impossible Project will be attending Polacon and Armand Kohandani’s Denton Camera Exchange will be a waystation for photographers to pick up film and other photography gear. For now, Rodrigue wants to keep the convention sponsor free. “It’s kind of like an anti-convention,” Rodrigue says. “I didn’t want a bunch of ads everywhere.”
One of the goals of the convention is to put a face to the instant film community and make film companies take notice. Twenty thousand people signed a petition earlier this year protesting Fujifilm's decision to shutter their peel-apart instant film production, but it was too little too late. Rodrigue hopes that a unified presence like the convention will open a line of communication to companies so they can be made aware of the demand for instant film and its potential for growth.
The first PolaWalk five years ago brought out only a handful of photographers, but the event page for this year's has more than 100 RSVPs from places as far as Europe. The convention will wrap up on Sunday with a “State of the Emulsion” at which Rodrigue plans to share his hopes for the medium going forward. “We already have the dates set for next year,” he says. “Our goal is to create something that keeps going.”
Polacon takes place Friday, Sept. 30, to Sunday, Oct. 2, on the Denton square. The event is free to attend but your RSVP is required here.