Some Assembly Required: Tim Alex Jacobs’ Polaroid Thermal Photographs

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Polaroid modified for thermal prints.

Tim Alex Jacobs

The rising costs of instant film have dissuaded many would-be Polaroid photographers from embracing the medium. Finding opportunity where others find roadblocks, Tim Alex Jacobs modified a Polaroid camera to print on thermal paper for inexpensive, instant photographs from an otherwise impractical camera.

Thermal paper is most often used to print receipts. For less than $50, Jacobs purchased the smallest thermal printer model he could find and used an available script that generates the sequences for printing bitmaps to reconfigure it to print photographs. A Polaroid Sonar Autofocus 5000 serves as the shell for the camera. Gutted and fitted with a $3 webcam, thermal printer, and Raspberry Pi Zero computer, the camera retained only its shutter button and case—even the original lens was replaced.

Jacobs tinkered with the camera for several months, finding one of the biggest challenges to reduce the boot-up time from 30 seconds to two seconds. The resulting images are grainy black-and-white photographs that have an authentic, gritty aesthetic that would be at home published in a zine, displayed in a school locker, or an excellent addition to any instant photography anthology.

View more of Jacobs’ work on his website.

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