The Impossible Project factory
Enschehe, The Netherlands
Words: Candice Morato
Loyal Polaroid users were dismayed when it was announced to the world in early 2008 that the company would cease all production of its iconic instant film. That was until the word got out that a group of crazy Dutchmen had an impossible plan. After
a “long and tiring battle,” a small company named The Impossible Project optimistically purchased the contents of one of the last operational Polaroid factories located in Enschede, a small university city in the eastern Netherlands, and decided that at its hands instant film would live on.
The long buildings of the complex sit unassumingly on a mostly residential street just a five-minute bicycle ride from the centre of the city. In the days of Polaroid, the factory employed roughly 1100 people and was producing around 65 million film packs a year. Compared to today, that level of activity is hard to visualise looking across at the passionate, smiling faces of the 36 Impossible staff gathered together in the cafeteria for a mid-morning coffee break. They may be few in numbers, but collectively hold over 500 years of experience with instant photography production.
When Polaroid film ceased to be, its chemical dyes also became non-existent
and Impossible had to source entirely new materials and invent its own chemical formulas, which are now mixed on-site. “My one and only brilliant chemist [and I] had been playing around in the lab, experimenting with really just a blank piece of paper,” says André Bosman, one of Impossible’s founders and chief operating officer at the factory. “It is an incredibly interactive process; to change one thing it affects another,” Bosman says. “It’s like if you want to change the volume on your radio, but then it also changes the station.”
Long hours in the chemistry lab and darkrooms eventually proved successful and, in March 2010, Impossible released a monochromatic film – something never previously made by Polaroid – and a few months later introduced its first colour film.
Between 2010 and 2011, the company’s film sales doubled, truly pushing production into full swing and meaning the eerie stillness of the building’s generally empty hallways would no longer be felt on the production floor. Instead, there’s a steady clicking and clacking of moving metallic parts and an odd squeaking from overhead as hundreds of empty black cartridges move along ceiling tracks on their way to the waiting production lines. The factory building is also home to a cosy outlet store and an impressive repair workshop, with shelf upon shelf of Polaroid cameras from every era.
Amazingly though, Impossible is also working on prototypes of its own instant cameras, aimed for release at the 2012 Photokina trade show in Cologne next September. And while Impossible continues to improve certain aspects of its film, enhancing it in no way means making it perfect. “Not accidently, what we put in there makes it look like an early SX-70 Polaroid film from 20 years ago,” admits Bosman. “This yellowish, greenish tinge; it adds something to it… Something that’s perfect doesn’t actually suit all people. It is like a computer game: if you win all the time, you start looking for a new game. Just winning is boring. It’s only because you can lose is what makes the game or winning fun. And with digital [photography] it’s kind of like everything is done for you and they all come out the same. So, to me, the game’s over when it’s perfect.”
From desktop magazine.
All images are copyright by Christian Riechold.