Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gone in an instant

The photographer in me can't not mark the passing of an era. Polaroid's recent announcement that it would stop producing and marketing its iconic instant film is as close to the death knell for the overall film industry as we're going to see.

I think we all remember our first Polaroid experience. Mine was at an elementary school track meet. (Quick aside: I'm old enough that I grew up firmly in the age of film. The only thing digital at the time was a digital watch, and even that was a bit of a novelty. There, now I've dated myself. Let's continue...)

One of the mothers brought this very large contraption. A crowd gathered as she explained what it was. She took a picture of her son, and we all stood around, jaws dropping open, as the photo slowly materialized on the print. Sure, it was always horridly expensive - a fact made even more obvious in today's digital age - and the photo quality approached that of a vaseline-smeared photo booth deep inside that dark, old mall that no one goes to anymore. But that didn't matter. It was our first taste of instant, and it tasted good.

So for a whole host of reasons, Polaroid has decided to pull out of the market that it created a generation ago. Which quite likely means the end of this now-niche form of photography. Aficionados are upset. Many are buying up whatever stock they can find. Others are taking Polaroid to task for daring to leave them high and dry. They make me laugh. Here's why:

Polaroid is a business. It exists by selling stuff for more money than it costs to manufacture, distribute and market. Like the consumers who buy them, most consumer products have a lifespan. When the end nears and sales go into decline - for whatever reason: technology, irrelevance, fatigue - companies often find themselves playing the business equivalent of Dr. Kevorkian as they wrestle with when it makes the most sense to pull the plug.

They owe their consumers nothing. Indeed, companies wouldn't have to kill products if consumers forever bought them in sufficient quantities. But life isn't like that, and instant film is no longer a sustainable market. And if the die-hards who now vilify Polaroid for doing the unthinkable had bought a lot more film in recent years, perhaps the company wouldn't be pulling the plug in 2008. More darkly, one wonders if conventional film isn't far behind.

Thank you, Polaroid, for having the guts to market a technology that made photography seem that much more magical, and for motivating so many - including me - to pick up a camera of any type and start shooting.

Your turn: Do you have a Polaroid moment from your past?


Heidi said...

I distinctly remember one moment (which I didn't think was there at first). My mom worked as a hostess at a restaurant as a part-time job on the weekends. My pop and I would go out to eat there when she worked so that we could see her a little bit. The owner of the place was flaunting about her Polaroid camera... impressing all that would let her take a picture of them. (She had the money for such an expensive venture in photography.) The photo is to this day one of my favorite pictures of my mom, pop, and me sitting in a booth at the restaurant. (Now I am going to make sure I scan it before it completely fades away.)

Thanks for bringing back the memory, Carmi.

carli said...

First the Kodak disc bites the dust, and now this?

I don't have any specific memories of Polaroid cameras, other than the rumor that if you shook it, it would develop faster. Was that true?

kenju said...

I remember the polaroid photos that were taken of my sorority pledge class during initiation - and I'd rahter they'd been destroyed years ao....LOL

I have a polaroid camera that uses 600 film, but I guess it is of no use to me now. Of course, it has been in a drawer for 15 years anyway.

Bunny Trails said...

I can't come up with a specific memory, but there are plenty of pix in the box. I was all of 4-5 in those that I remember (yep, dating myself, too).

I do have one of those nifty little Polaroid IZones that shoots teeny, tiny photos. I am a little sad that it will now be obsolete. Sigh.

I really don't want to think about film going away. At least not until I can afford the digital SLR that I want! :D

Sherrie said...

I came over for your WW but saw the announcement on Polaroid and had to comment here instead. GAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! I love Polaroid. I will confess that I do not use it as much as my digital, but its still fun to go old school at parties or other events. Sniff.

I actually have one on my wall from when I was a baby on my parents table sitting on a plastic tub.

Jenty said...

I never had a polaroid, I always wanted one though. It's truely the end of an era.
A friend of mine has just bought one in Dubai to use to take pics of friends at parties and they hang them on a wall in their entertainment area.

Robin said...

It WAS magic to me as a child! Although I can recall no specific "Polaroid moment", I CAN remember shaking the pictures to expedite the process (is that like pressing the elevator button over and over again?) and carefully peeling the protective layer off.

I don't know if my own children have ever seen one...and what's odder to consider is their children won't even know what we're talking about if we mention it!

s i g h :)

Holly Schwendiman said...

I wish I had the time right now to share how many memories you just stirred up! I agree with you all the way, especially in giving thanks for adding some magic to our lives and giving us a taste of what comes from going beyond the mark. :)


Diane Mandy said...

How sad! At my wedding this past June, we had a Polaroid there and did an instant scrapbook in lieu of a guest book. It went over really well. This is he end of an era, really.

me said...

My dad worked for Polaroid for 30 years or so. We always had cameras; we would test out the newest. My brother and I were captured every which way but loose. I gave school reports on the film and how it worked, (dad was an engineer), school events, neighborhood gatherings, we took shots of it all. Good friggen times.
Unfortunately Polaroid dicked over their employee’s and dicked them hard. Karma

Chris said...

When I was about 11 I had an early, early Polaroid camera - a Landswinger - that shot black and white film. Even in the mid-70's, it was hard to get film for it. There was an elaborate sequence for getting the picture out of the camera, that involved taking the photo, burning incense, chanting, pulling the paper-wrapped image out halfway, waiting, more chanting, pulling the image out all the way, not peeking, waiting and chanting a little longer, then peeling back the chemical-laden wrapper to reveal a relatively sharp photo. I still have 2 grainy images I took back in 1977 or thereabouts.

photowannabe said...

I remember when a neighbors car was broken into and the window was smashed. While they were despairing over their losses I ran in the house and got out the trusty polaroid and took lots of pictures for their insurance claim.
I haven't thought of that for a long time.
Thanks for a trip down memory lane.

Finn said...

Can't remember a specific Polaroid moment, but I do remember that instant film sparked my interest in photography as well.

It's sad to realize that an era is ending, but there is so much to love about digital that I think the upset is more about nostalgia than anything.

Lissa said...

Nowadays, "instant" is digital photography but you're right, Carmi, the magic of watching the picture appear was memorable.

My Polaroid memory made me smile when it flashed in my head. My mom had a tremendous sense of fun and there was no relationship like the one between her and my dad. We were always so honored to be part of that when she did things to make my dad feel her love for him.

So one day, Valentine's day (it must be 35 years ago), she took out the Polaroid. She took a big piece of red construction paper (though the pictures were B&W) and cut out a huge heart. She took a picture of my sister holding the heart. She then gave me the paper with the heart cut out of its center, and had me use it as a frame for my face, taking a picture of me that way. I can see it now - and I remember I'd been practicing piano when she took it. She took a picture of my little brother (okay he was little THEN!) with a chain of paper hearts. And the last picture was one we got to take of her, blowing a kiss.

The pictures were then put into a large frame, arranged neatly in a sort of pyramid (if memory serves) and she took a paper heart, wrote "We Love You" and the date on it. She left it at his place on the dinner table and when we all sat down and he opened it, we were giggling with delight. My dad was thrilled - the picture hung on his office wall for years!

My mom used that camera for fun impromptu moments like that, expensive or not, and now, all these years later, it STILL resonates.

Thanks for the ticket down memory lane, Carmi...sure warmed up this freezing winter's day!

Rainbow dreams said...

My sister in law gave us a polaroid camera only twelve years ago or less even when or son was small - not sure why apart form it was fun...a trip down memory lane - not that I have many from being a child... we had fun, it was good while it lasted, the kids were fascinated...but for proper photos that look good and we'd want to keep, other formats are better...
It will stay with the rest of the clutter though becuase we won't have the heart to throw it away!

rashbre said...

I sometimes use a Polaroid like frame on a digital pic. Somehow it captures a certain spirit.