Fading Polaroid’s; the passing of instant photography

Posted on March 17, 2008


This morning I picked up on a story in the Boston Globe, a lead from Modern Art Notes. Instant Karma, the end of Polaroid, the End of an Era. Time has come to a stand still for the once cutting edge in modern photography.

The instant image was a wondrous invention that changed and recorded the history of us. Those old photo albums with pictures of us as kids, grandparents and relatives we struggle to remember, thank god we wrote their names on the little white strips at the bottom of the film. And cameras that were best described as machines, a darkroom in a box. The noise of the camera operation and the smell of the chemical developers and that little pasty stick used to smear goo over the image to help preserve it, gone with time. Lost to the digital age, to an age where the physical processes of touch and smell are gone. On a recent photo shoot my son and I had our Polaroid backs for the two film cameras we brought with us. Soon the dash board of the car was covered with the pictures we took. Thinking back it reminds me of other trips I had taken with my family, pictures scattered around as evidence of good times, right now along for the ride. Make no mistake Digital Photography is the cutting edge today, it is how the industry works and it is improving and replacing more traditional photography all the time. Just look around for a photo business that processes film that hasn’t gone digital, from One Hour photos to gone in sixty seconds, they are gone. Digital has changed the market place much the way Polaroid did as a leader in the industry for many decades.

Not only did they produce film for the Polaroid Land Camera they also made negative films that were and are still used by Professional Photographers today. These films allowed you to get the exposure right; you could see what you got when you took the shot. Now that may sound trivial in the today’s digital photography world but in it’s time it was fantastic leap in technology. A question that I ask myself all the time is this. What have we lost, removed from the physical processes of photography and what have we gained or what will we gain with new technology. Some of the loss is obvious, contact with chemicals, visual, and the slow development of the image. Touch; our hands are out of the process, we have other machines to do those things, no development, straight to print. And we have Photoshop and Lightroom which really do model the development process and image manipulation. The advancement in these new technologies, themselves are wondrous and efficient. For me the nostalgia of the past is found memories of those smelly Polaroid’s that recorded events, people and places. Maybe the smell even helped record the memory as much as the image.

As a Photographer I never really liked the Dark Room, the Wet Process of photography, I loved to shoot the images. Hands in chemicals and working in the dark always seemed opposite of capturing light in that little box, that was trapped on the film. Only to be released by alchemy of the wizards and Polaroid was a Wizard in a box. Gone now like the wizards of the past, like Merlin who amazed King Arthur’s court. But new wizards like Harry Potter emerge and new magic is made and old stories will be told of times past around the camp fire.

For more on the story follow the links listed below. Michael Blanchard’s You Tube movie is worth a look http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM7FHnL8Pso He does a nice job telling the story about the end of Polaroid. His website listed below also is done very well and he has some very nice images. http://michaelblanchard.com/

Then there is the Save Polaroid site that is also very good. But I think if there is a future for the technology it will be at the hands of Fuji Film, they also make instant film, but not quite Polaroid. Maybe they will buy the rights to the Polaroid and we will get Fujiroid. http://www.savepolaroid.com/

So stock up the fridge, the old Polaroid only has a twelve month shelf life and then it is gone.