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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Impossible Project: Real Photography

"We see our products creating and forming a unique niche market for passionate people, who choose our products besides everything the digital market is offering them." Florean Kaps, Impossible Project co-founder. Its snapshot heritage is steeped in the nostalgia of the coffee table photo album, its square edges capturing the faded sepia tones of childhood and the painterly sun-drenched landscapes of winding road trips. The instant clunk and wind of a Polaroid camera, a sturdy and mechanical action reassuring in its weighty process, will be warmly familiar to many. The tool of the day-tripper, artist and designer alike, the Polaroid camera and its instant film opened up a whole new world of photography to anyone who could afford it. Launched in 1948, this pioneering format revolutionised photography, flying high and seemingly triumphant. But of course the photographic revolution did not end with the development of instant film and with the advance of digital imaging Polaroid found their position to be shifting. Technologically savvy customers could now dispense with the need for the comparatively expensive Polaroid film and print their images at home. So it seemed the end of instant film was in sight. After a number of turbulent years, Polaroid announced in 2008 that it would cease production of its film and close its last plant in Enschede, the Netherlands. And there the story would have ended were it not for the insight of two of Polaroid's closest allies. Enter Florean Kaps and Andre Bosman, founders of The Impossible Project. Florean, a leading manager of the Lomographic Society credited with developing their worldwide online community and shopping platform, and Andre, an engineering manager who had been with Polaroid since 1980, came together at the closing event of the Polaroid factory in Enschede. While others were toasting the end of an era the two entrepreneurs were developing plans to breathe new life into a product that had seemingly been left for dead. As a large-scale Polaroid production unit the original factory, capable of manufacturing anything up to ten million film packs a year and supporting 5,000 members of staff, could not sustain itself within the now much smaller marketplace. By shrinking output and redesigning production processes The Impossible Project team could create a new, viable and sustainable business model set to cater for the dedicated consumer group that had become loyal users of the product. It was with this vision that they managed to secure a capital investment of €2 million to re-establish the business. Fast forward to 2011 and contrary to first impressions The Impossible Project is not a story of nostalgic renaissance, but a testament to the foresight of its business savvy founders. The analogue market is a booming niche. From vinyl records to the shelves of the indie bookstore, consumers are regrouping from the scatter shot effect created by the internet - a place where unlimited access has made every aspect of life ripe for digital pixilation, all content and form transplanted into a binary simulation. There is an evolution happening that is creating symbiotic communities in which the internet provides a forum for exchanging stories and ideas that are firmly grounded in the physical, and it's here that Florean sees potential: "The digital elements allowed us in the very beginning to create and reach out to a dedicated worldwide community that we started building in 2005 on as the first Polaroid-only online picture community and, the very first online shop for analogue instant film only. Next year TIP will finally present some Impossible tools that for the very first time will further merge and connect the most analogue material in photography with the needs and expectations of modern digital users." In a world previously dominated by the consumptive experience, people are looking for experiential connection with the products they choose to buy. These one-off originals created on Impossible Project film elevate the everyday camera into an object of art creation. The exclusivity of these single frame productions makes this a tool far removed from the continuously winking eye of the digital camera. "We see our products creating and forming a unique niche market for passionate people, who choose our products besides everything the digital market is offering them. Just as vinyl speaks to a dedicated crowd of music fans, the Impossible products speak to a dedicated crowd of photography fans. Impossible is made for everybody who is interested in real photography and who is in love with real pictures," Florean adds. The Impossible Project illustrates how there is plenty of room in the marketplace for both digital and analogue. Moreover, there is a wealth of opportunity in niche and specialist markets for those who clearly understand their customer. Florean and Andre seem perfectly placed to take on and transform the heritage of instant film, both possessing a deep product knowledge and understanding of its loyal followers. It will be interesting to see how new Impossible products and services go on to shape and support this community's growing connectivity. For now it's reassuring to see that with passion and a clear vision business ideas can be reborn and creativity can once again develop in the palm of your hand. Andrea Burns is founder of Wanderlust and Huella. She works with creative people across Yorkshire to turn their ideas into businesses. )

Next article in issue 47


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