Through The Lens spotlights emerging and established photographers from around the world. The ongoing series is dedicated to offering unique insights in varying areas of photographic expertise including portrait, landscape, fine art, fashion, documentary and more.
Polaroid has launched its latest Reclaimed Blue 600 film, a novel film chemistry that was discovered through fortuitous experimentation. Developed by a young chemist at the world’s only Polaroid film factory, this unique chemical process resulted in a visually stunning blue film that sets itself apart from other duochrome or monochrome films that require dye to achieve vibrant colors.
The Polaroid chemist responsible for the discovery, Brian Slaghuis, credits the chemical TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) for its contribution in giving direction to the other 12 chemicals in the film to make the existing cyan color strong enough to override the other colors present. Polaroid’s DNA is rooted in experimentation, and Reclaimed Blue film captures that essence.
“It’s real chemistry developing instantly in your hand, no darkroom needed.”
“It’s really unique. If we compare Reclaimed Blue 600 film to duochrome or monochrome film, the way it works is completely different. When we make a duochrome, our black and white film system is used. A dye is added to the paste to change the white that is usually there into a new color. For monochrome film, the dye change lies in the negative layer versus the paste. There is only a single dye layer in the negative where normally there are three dye layers to create a full color image,” said Brian. Having added: “For the Reclaimed Blue 600 film, it’s not manipulating any dyes at any stage of the process. We use the traditional system for our color film and add TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) —a developer chemical from our black and white film recipe—to the color paste. It’s a chemical reaction within the paste that allows only the blue color to come through. It’s real chemistry developing instantly in your hand, no darkroom needed.”
All in all, the brand encourages photographers and creators to explore this blue chemistry, embrace its accidental quality, and see what captivating images they can capture. The release of Reclaimed Blue 600 film is another milestone for Polaroid, which has always pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with instant film.
For the latest Through the Lens, Hypeart had the privilege of conducting an interview with Brian, in which we delved into the significant laboratory occurrence that led to his unearthing of the Reclaimed Blue 600, his process as a chemist in the sole Polaroid Factory, and his general enthusiasm for the art of photography. Check out the interview below alongside visceral snapshots taken by Brian, Bret Watkins and Felicita Russo using the new film.
“No one else has film quite like this.”
What is the significance of the discovery of the Reclaimed Blue 600 film?
Reclaimed Blue 600 film is a significant discovery due to how develops more than just how it looks. The blue color is purely from a chemical reaction, not adding or removing dyes. This film is a great example of what’s possible through experimentation. We weren’t on a mission to create blue film, it’s not something that was in research and development for several years. In our quest to keep improving our existing film quality, we discovered the chemical reaction from a chemical called TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) that created this film that only features blue hues: no blacks or whites.
No one else has film quite like this. Reclaimed Blue 600 film is significant since it’s an actual new film type, born from experimentation. On the journey of constant film improvement, there’s still so much to discover.
What is TBHQ, and how is it typically used in film chemistry?
TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) is a developer chemical normally used in our paste for black and white film. It reacts with the silver in the negative layer of Polaroid film.
How does your experience as a chemist inform your approach to photography, and vice versa?
For me, chemistry comes first in every area. Through the lens of my work in research and development, it informs how I view and appreciate photography.
I’m a scientist who happens to get to work at the coolest laboratory and factory making the world’s supply of Polaroid film. Because of that, I get to be a photographer through the filter of science. By testing different chemicals for the paste in the Polaroid film, it results in potential new paste recipes that we get to shoot with in small batches. Seeing my work in the lab transform into a real picture I get to hold inspires more experimenting and more photography.
Images by Bret Watkins
“While I’m not a professional photographer, I’m able to create images that no one else can make or will likely ever see.”
What do you think about the intersection of art and science in your work, both as a photographer and a chemist?
I personally like the idea that I am working on a product that other people can be creative with. Sometimes I am really amazed by what people come up with using Polaroid film. At that moment, I am proud to have been a part of this experience where science can create a one-of-a-kind image. It’s not an app, algorithm, or filter, it’s real chemistry you can hold in your hand and watch it develop. So many chemical processes and reactions have to happen inside each Polaroid image, I think that’s an artform itself. I get to be creative with chemistry and at the other end, people are creative through their art with Polaroid instant film.
What techniques and methods do you use to capture unique and unexpected images in your photography, and how does this influence your work as a chemist?
Actually, my work as a chemist informs my work as a photographer. Experimenting and testing different chemical recipes and trying for different results is an incredible process. While I’m not a professional photographer, I’m able to create images that no one else can make or will likely ever see. We create small batches of the Polaroid film paste in the lab with different color experiments and combinations that won’t reach the market due to image stability.
Taking photos with these test batches gives me unexpected images that inspire more research and development on the science side. Holding all these secret images and recipes that are ultimately for future research is a colorful part of my job that not many chemists have. I try to be as good as other photographers, but most of the times my shots won’t get near the quality and creativeness of others. I think I can better keep my focus on trying to improve the chemistry of the film rather than chasing that perfect shot.
Have you experimented with the Reclaimed Blue chemistry in your own photography practice, and if so, what types of images has he captured?
When the first batch of Reclaimed Blue film was made, I had the chance to take test shots at home. I really like to capture the special moments with people who I spend time with. Some of the first shots I made on Reclaimed Blue film were with friends who were at my place playing games.
Images by Felicita Russo
“If people want to chase a career as a scientist or photographer, they should go after what inspires them.”
How does your approach to photography align with Polaroid’s philosophy of experimentation and innovation?
I think Reclaimed Blue 600 film is a big example of that philosophy of experimentation and innovation coming to life. I really like to try new things within our chemistry. It’s great that we also have the time to be experimental with our film. Every time something looks promising, we take some test shots with that film in the laboratory. Most of the time it won’t be stable for longer periods of time, but we captured that cool moment where it still had a chance to succeed. For a picture, you are always trying to get the best results out of that one photo. We are always focused on getting the best results out of Polaroid film chemistry.
What does Polaroid hope to achieve by encouraging photographers and creators to experiment with the Reclaimed Blue chemistry?
I hope that people can be creative in their own way and use Reclaimed Blue film to experiment with. In the end I hope people will enjoy the film as much as I did when I was working on developing it. It ended up being a beautiful accident and I can’t wait to see what photographers discover while using it.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers or scientists who are interested in pursuing a career in either field, or in both simultaneously?
Ironically, in middle school I didn’t do well in chemistry class but loved it. I actually went on to study to be an elementary school teacher at university. I realized I didn’t have the passion for teaching I naturally had for chemistry. Ultimately you have to do something you like, not just something you’re really great at. You also can become great in something you actually enjoy. For me, I loved science so I got an advanced chemistry degree and have been doing research and development for Polaroid for over five years. Just be passionate in the things you love to do. Show that you are interested and don’t force yourself to do things you don’t want to. If people want to chase a career as a scientist or photographer, they should go after what inspires them.
Where can customers purchase the Reclaimed Blue 600 film,and are there any restrictions on its use or availability?
Reclaimed Blue 600 film is a limited edition film available on April 4 at Polaroid.com and select retailers worldwide. When it sells out it’s gone but it’s completely restriction free—we’d love to hear what experiments and tests photographers create with it. What started as an experiment continues to be an experiment of what types of photos can be created with Reclaimed Blue film.