Watching as artists embrace and transform a new technology

In my last blog post, I discussed ways artists/photographers use technology in both intended and unintended ways in order to tell their stories and/or express their ideas. This kind of hybrid-ization of technology is an ongoing process. For me, the latest stop on that path is in multi-media/video. My wife’s work, animating family photos, is her newest step in that ongoing process. I was recently reading about a new technology that I have already been using in its intended form. I realized how ripe that same technology is for experimentation. Soon artists/photographers will be exploiting that same technology in new and unintended ways. I think the really fun part will be watching this happen, observing the explorations as they happen rather than looking back after the fact and only then connecting the dots.

The technology in question is called zero ink (or Zink) color printing. It is essentially a heat-activated color printing process where the colors are in the paper and they are “developed out” in the printing process. A very simple but useful explanation of the technology can be found at: http://www.polaroid.com/category_marketing?assoc_key=266907&id=1805

This new ink-less printing technology was born out of the bankruptcy of Polaroid. You can read much more about that (and the convoluted process it went through from idea to reality) at: http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/zink-inkless-printing-with-colorless-color Though the piece is a bit technical at points, it is very worthwhile reading. At the end the author writes: “And the Zink technology is catching on among artists, much as the old Polaroid technology did, back in the day, and for the same reason—you can alter the colors while the photo is developing.”

I read that and then I paused to reread the article, especially the more technical parts about how the paper actually works. The paper they have developed appears to be almost magical. I then pulled out my own Pogo, the Polaroid brand printer that I own, which uses that same paper. I have blogged in the past about the value of that printer as a way to make prints, in the field, direct from your camera, in order to give photos back to the people you photograph. See: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/04/03/what-kind-of-tools-do-i-use-and-why-part-one/ and http://thewellspoint.com/2009/01/23/the-life-and-death-and-life-of-polaroid-pictures/ On December 16th, I will post a new pod-cast showing that Pogo printer, in action, in the field in Guatemala.

In all the time I have been using, thinking of and spreading the word about the Pogo, I never really thought much about the paper itself, probably because it is rather small at 2 x 3 inches. According to the longer article noted above, in the future the paper sizes will be going up, and with it I think, will be the experiments in using the new paper in interesting and unintended ways.

The paper has three layers of color and those colors are developed out by heat, rather than light. My first thought is to take a soldering iron to the paper to see how the hot point triggers the colors. Next would be to pop it in a toaster oven to see how the temperature impacts the colors. I would also see how the paper reacts to intensive sunlight with heat. Maybe I could make a contact print sandwiching an existing slide or negative a top the paper the baking it in the sun or in toaster oven or…..

So, the question naturally arises, is it photography? That is debatable because on the one hand, there is no obvious drawing with light, as happens in conventional photography. On the other hand, the technology was developed explicitly for imaging, so it comes out of photography yes. Where it will actually go is anyone’s guess.

Since the technology is new and we have long observed how artists use new technologies in unexpected and innovative ways, I would keep an eye on Zink paper. The Holga started out as an amusement park prize and now is a fine-art technology. Older Polaroid printing technologies were initially created for instant documentary imaging for family, police and scientific purposes. In the hands of Andy Warhol and Lucas Samaras, they become so much more. Why would this imaging technology be any different?

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