NPR - Russia by Rail - Freeze Frame-Photographs by David Gilkey/NPR
When photographing the Trans-Siberian railway, which has a history dating back a century, it was natural to drift back in time and imagine taking a trip like this while carrying tripods; big, heavy cameras; and lots of film — and not just throwing a couple of extra memory cards in your bag.
Taking pictures in the first part of the 20th century required packing a lot of unwieldy gear, complete with shiny wood, fragrant chemicals and a bit of magic. But in our digital age, are we trading convenience for the romance of the journey?
To help answer that question, we approached some folks at The Impossible Project, a group that describes itself as “producing new instant film materials for classic Polaroid cameras.” Their film works just like the old SX-70 Polaroids you may recall from your youth — if you are old enough. When Polaroid stopped making film for those cameras a few years ago, The Impossible Project stepped in and created their new film from the ground up.
The look of their film has more in common with photography of the 1920s and ’30s than with the polished and perfected Polaroid film packs of the late ’90s. But this film proved challenging to transport: It required lead-lined bags to protect it against damage at airport X-ray machines. And it wasn’t convenient to use — it turns out the film gets balky when the temperatures are below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Still, it was picture-perfect for this epic trip.
The wintry landscapes, rendered in muted blacks, browns and grays, evoke an earlier time; one before computer-driven cameras and picture-taking cellphones. These are photographs you can touch and smell and share, hand to hand, among your new traveling companions.