From Iceland to Sri Lanka – just take a couple of minutes to scroll through the Instagram feed of prolific creator Dan Rubin and you’ll be seething with wanderlust envy. As well as documenting his never-ending adventures on digital, Dan has been shooting with instant film for many years: and preserves his beloved SX-70 for special projects along the way. Following the first in a new Polaroid Originals workshop series at The Photographers’ Gallery in London last weekend, we sat down with him to talk about his thoughts on our new OneStep 2 camera, and the projects he plans to make us jealous with this coming year.
How central has the recent rise in instant photography been to your own photography career?
I doubt I’d be a photographer at all if not for Polaroid. Though I’d been a designer since my teens (and dabbled in oils and watercolours even earlier), I’d never connected with photography until about 9 years ago, when I picked up an original Polaroid SX-70 on eBay after a few other designers I knew had done the same. This was shortly after Polaroid had announced the discontinuation of integral film, and a fear of missing out definitely played a large part in the motivation.
I also thought the SX-70 was the most beautiful product design I’d ever seen, and figured it would look nice on my shelf after I’d shot a few packs of film just to say I’d done it before it became extinct. Everything I’ve done with a camera has stemmed from that first awakening, as it were: instant film made me realise a camera could be a creative tool. Since then, shooting Impossible Project and now Polaroid Originals film continues to be part of how I experience photography, no matter how many other formats I use.
What do you think it was about shooting with instant that created this connection to photography?
I really liked the photos I shot in those first few packs: I’d fallen in love with the images I was creating, and it was now something I could see as a creative outlet. I bought as many packs of Polaroid film as I could afford and find over the next few years, and started experimenting with other formats of digital and film photography, as I thought integral film would eventually run out.
Thankfully, The Impossible Project was born and I immediately started buying packs of their film whenever I could afford to, shooting it during my travels and getting anyone who would listen to also buy film and — selfishly — help keep Impossible alive. The early emulsions were unique, to say the least, but it was worth pushing through the years of improvements, from Silver Shade to the first colour film, and all the iterations since then.
When Impossible released the B&W 2.0 emulsion, it quickly became one of my favourite B&W films in any format, and now the new Polaroid Originals colour film is quickly becoming a favorite after a few short weeks. I wouldn’t be taking photos at all, really — commercially or otherwise — were it not for picking up an SX-70 nearly 10 years ago, and shooting a few packs of film.
You work on various collaborations and commissions that take you all over the world. What projects are you most excited about right now?
I’m designing a number of physical products, collaborating with a few companies in the UK and elsewhere, which will start launching in the first quarter of 2019 — including a line of bespoke leather camera straps with a luxury boutique leather maker in Southeast England, and a range of jeans with Hiut Denim in Wales.
The year has of course involved a lot of travel (normal for me), including 4 trips to Iceland, my first visit to China, a travel workshop in Alaska (the start of an ongoing series of workshops kicking off next year around the world with Moment Travel), a trip around the Southwest U.S., and a few stops around the UK and Europe, and I’ll be heading to Australia and New Zealand for most of November and December to round out the year. Jet lag is a near-constant state, to be sure! I’m considering hiring a motorhome next time, especially for the Australia leg (I’m already looking into hiring a motorhome in Brisbane) as it not only gives me somewhere to rest on the go, but also gives me more opportunities to take some amazing photos.
Tell us more about how you got involved with hosting workshops, and what you enjoy about hosting them?
I’ve been teaching in various circumstances for much of my life — from training in Boy Scouts, to musical direction and vocal coaching, to workshops and conferences in design, web, and photography — and most of that is down to my mum being so passionate about learning (she was a teacher in the UK before meeting my father and moving to the US). Whenever I’m excited about a topic, I immediately find a way to share that excitement with others — and in the process, I learn even more about whatever I’m teaching. Professionally, I’ve been speaking at design conferences and teaching workshops in that field for nearly 11 years, and I started teaching photographic workshops about 3 years ago, shortly after I’d moved to the UK.
Honestly, I can’t actually recall how the series of workshops at The Photographer’s’ Gallery came to be — I’d taught one photography workshop at the V&A previously, and a few others around the UK, so perhaps I was on their radar at that point, or it was an Impossible Project connection around other events in the London area. Whatever the initial point of contact, the series has been a lot of fun, and getting to run the first two Polaroid Originals workshops (including the first ever One Step 2 workshop) has been a special experience. It’s so much fun for me to watch the attendees creating beautiful photos, experimenting with light, and running around to get their shots. That never gets old.
What are your first impressions of the new Polaroid OneStep 2? Will it ever be able to find a place in your heart – second to your beloved SX-70 of course.
First of all, it’s insanely exciting to see a brand new instant camera with the Polaroid name on it. The OS2 is a brilliant point-and-shoot camera — great for capturing life as it happens, especially with the built-in flash. I’ve been shooting with mine for nearly two weeks now, and though I adore using an SX-70 and SLR680, there are definitely situations where the OS2 makes more sense for me.
Can you share an instant moment from the year that’s left an impression on you?
I art directed a shoot as part of cover art I’m designing/directing for a singer/songwriter I’m also producing — the idea was to create what looked like a triple exposure featuring the artist, Emily Denton, which corresponds to the three emotional stages of the story told in the song.
The final image is actually an 8-second exposure, shot on a bedroom set constructed by our studio photographer, Gareth Williams, who also handled the lighting setup. Using my MiNT SLR670m — which allows shooting in Bulb via its custom hardware — and continuous lights as we couldn’t trigger a flash with the modified SX-70 (we used the same lighting setup for all cameras, as we knew we wanted to use the classic Polaroid during the shoot), we choreographed the exact timing required to reproduce this result over a hundred times in total. We’re all really proud of what we created that day.
The final artwork will be a flatlay-style image with the Polaroid as the primary element. The single will be released in the coming weeks, and it looks like it will be the first use of a Polaroid in album art since the launch of Polaroid Originals — which is definitely an exciting milestone!
Analog has been a big theme in the production of her debut single, as well as my art direction for the music video, cover art, and a few teasers released throughout this year: My first shoot with Emily back in February was on medium format and 35mm film, the shoot for the cover image also included older Impossible film (including 8×10), original Polaroid stock (Type 100, 4×5, and 8×10), and slide/negative film in medium and large formats, and the music video features B&W 35mm film images I shot to recreate specific memories of Emily’s that resulted in the song. It’s great to be able to experiment with so many formats on a single project — we’re definitely spoiled for choice when it comes to the final product.
Can you tell us more about what you’ve been up to over the last year, and what’s around the corner?
It’s been quite a full year already, with a lot of exciting things on the horizon. This time last year, I had just finished my first ever Kickstarter campaign with my friend, Craig Mod, for our photo book, Koya Bound (http://walkkumano.com), shot during an 8-day hike along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan. We launched the book in October in Tokyo, and signed all 1,000 copies that same week. Getting those in people’s’ hands since then has been brilliant, and we’re down to the final few copies, which feels amazing. I’ve also been spending a lot of time this year getting back into the music world, this time as a producer for a new artist out of London. Her debut single will be released in the next few weeks, and in addition to producing the track, I’ve also done photography, art direction, and even acted as assistant director on the music video — lots of work but an amazing result I’m excited to share with the world.
All photographs courtesy of IG: @danrubin