Polaroid Memories

Instant Karma — “Before Polaroid fades into history, let’s remember how influential — and cool — the art of the snapshot, and the cameras themselves, could be” [Mark Feeney, Boston Globe : March 16, 2008]

Polaroid announced last month that they would no longer produce instant film was just an inevitable step in the long, slow decline of Polaroid and the world of instant photography. Instant film photography, killed off by digital photography. In the world of cameraphones, Flickr, photoprinters, who needs instant film cameras?

But Polaroid really was once so cool. In Feeney’ words:

“…there are those who remember when it was the Apple of its day: feisty, ubiquitous, pioneering. The Polaroid Land Camera was like the Mac, with all other consumer cameras PCs. There was the same sense of engineering superiority and cultural cachet.”

My Father's SlidesWhen I was a child, my engineer father had a serious camera with a light meter and a lot of accessories. He took slides and wrote the technical data on the frames, and he carefully ordered and organized the slides in trays for the projector. My mother had an old Brownie box camera, later replaced by an Instamatic, totally point-and-shoot. She had some of her older photographs in albums and baby books, but most of her pictures were just tossed into shoeboxes, undated and unlabeled.

But back in the fifties, my uncle worked for Polaroid, and we cousins were fascinated watching him pull out the pictures, peel off the backing, and rub them with that fixative stick. He made quite a show of it. Those tiny little black-and-white photographs with deckled edges were, like my aunt and uncle themselves, just so modern, so cool, so Cambridge. I have a few of those pictures, because they weren’t the sort of pictures you put in albums, they were little treats that you gave away. “Here, kid, this one’s yours,” as if it were a balloon animal or party favor.

I didn’t think about any of this much until digital photography came along, and I discovered that same sense of excitement I used to have watching Uncle Steve do his magic producing instant pictures. It still feels like magic to me to be able to capture moments, see them right away and share them.

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