Anyone with a smartphone is equipped to take quality pictures and immediately upload them online. But we still want mementos that are a little more tangible, a photo we can print and hold in the time it takes to find a filter in Instagram. Whether you’re a recreational photographer with a hobby or a photojournalist wondering what effect this could have on the media world, you might have questions about instant film and its place in photography today — or you just appreciate a day spent walking and taking pictures with friends.
Enter PolaCon 2016, the world’s first instant film convention taking place Friday through Sunday at multiple locations in Dallas and Denton.
The convention had its humble beginnings in a photo walk, a term for a group of photographers meeting up and taking pictures of anything they find interesting. The photo walk has long been an activity organized via camera clubs and online forums.
Daniel Rodrigue and Justin Goode met through an online forum for photographers. They found themselves in Deep Ellum one rainy day in 2012, wanting to walk to the State Fair of Texas. A group of about 12 people armed with various instant film cameras joined that first “PolaWalk.” These photo walks have become an annual meet-up, and last year, 83 others joined the co-founders.
While other cities have photo walks, many past PolaWalk guests have come from other states — one man even visited from the United Kingdom. The North Texas PolaWalks continue to grow exponentially, especially when compared to photo walks in other cities.
“I think the big difference here is we have so many colleges. (There are) so many young people who are into instant film that I think that’s a big part of it,” Rodrigue says. “But the reality is people of all ages are showing up to these PolaWalks.”
With the growth of the PolaWalk, Rodrigue and Goode sensed an opportunity to host an instant film convention. The two partnered with FilmPhotographic and Denton Camera Exchange owner Armand Kohandani. All three are members of the Instant Film Society.
The weekend events run the spectrum of interests in instant film. Friday is the 5th annual State Fair PolaWalk, which will leave from Cold Beer Company in Deep Ellum at about 4 p.m. and end behind Big Tex at Fair Park. The rest of the convention will take place in Denton. It will include photo booths and a swap meet area, other PolaWalks, and workshops on topics ranging from “Instant Film 101” to “Scanning, Printing, and Enlarging your Polaroids.”
On Sunday, actor, photographer, and Denton resident Jason Lee will debut his Refueled Magazine One Series photobook Jason Lee Vol. 1: Instant Film, followed by an audience Q&A with Lee and magazine publisher Chris Brown. Patrick Tobin of The Impossible Project, the only company in the world that manufactures original format instant film, will give the second keynote speech. A wrap party will close the weekend.
“We tried to make the programming so that if someone wants structure, there’s structure and if they just want to hang out and take pictures, they can do that, too,” Rodrigue says.
If you are planning on participating in the PolaWalk, you will have to pay for entry to the State Fair: general admission is $16 online, and $18 at the gate. PolaCon will be totally free, although it is highly recommended that you RSVP as space is limited.
“What’s cool is now there’s these relationships that have formed, where instead of just liking somebody’s photo on the other side of the U.S., it’s like you know them and there’s conversation,” Rodrigue says. “Part of this was just really helping bring this huge, online instant film community together.”