Polaroids -- the Last Hurrah

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    Jul 21, 2009 4:43 PM GMT
    Interesting Newsweek article about the last hurrah of Polaroid photographs among some artists, if you even know what Polaroids are.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/207057

    I saw my first in the 1950s, when adult friends of my parents would bring them to parties and amaze everyone, taking B&W instant pictures that made us all gasp. Big folding cameras with bellows, that looked so impressive compared to our little Kodaks, or early 35mm, with huge reflector flash guns holding fat flashbulbs. How innocent we were, how easily impressed by today's standards.

    Well, perhaps not so instant. After the picture was taken a large sheet had to be pulled out of the camera's side. Then a carefully timed wait, and the back of the camera flipped open, to peal the picture out, and show it to everyone.

    In 1963 my parents gave me a Polaroid 100 for Christmas, the new "film pack" model where the picture developed outside the camera, a big breakthrough. You still had to carefully pull this envelope through rollers, and wait a precisely-timed period before peeling it open, but it was astonishing. The camera was still a big folding bellows affair.

    If the weather was cold outside, you had to put the envelope in a provided thin metal aluminum sandwich, and place it under your armpit to keep it warm. There was color film by then, but the black & white prints had to be quickly coated with a smelly lacquer fluid, in a felt squeegee that came with each film pack. Otherwise the image would scrape off like chalk, and the image discolor & fade.

    In the early 1980s I got an SX70 model, which spit the picture out with an electric motor. The image developed before your eyes on its own, not inside an envelope you had to time and then peel open. The camera body was a strange flat thing, like a thin book, that you pulled open into a weird triangle-shaped kind of thing. Only Polaroid could have come up with something so noncamera-like, and you can see a later version being used in the movie "Beetlejuice."

    Not long ago Polaroid announced the end of production of film for their cameras. We have digital now, a better solution. But for a time those Polaroid cameras were our hi-tech, one more amazing reminder of the new world we lived in. Not to mention American, when the US led the world in technology of every kind, and could do anything we set our minds to.

    I kinda miss that spirit, and those results. And so Polaroid cameras remind me not only of some remarkable period technology, but also of an attitude we in the US no longer have. Too bad. icon_sad.gif
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    Jul 21, 2009 5:01 PM GMT
    I had an SX-70 when I was a really young kid. My grandfather was a photographer by hobby and "gave" it to me because I was fascinated with the quirky folding nature of the camera. I think I still have some of the "time-zero" film around here.

    Wasn't it a technologically cool time period? You just don't see that creativity and risk with designs any more.
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    Jul 21, 2009 6:00 PM GMT
    Pianist saidI had an SX-70 when I was a really young kid. My grandfather was a photographer by hobby and "gave" it to me because I was fascinated with the quirky folding nature of the camera. I think I still have some of the "time-zero" film around here.

    Wasn't it a technologically cool time period? You just don't see that creativity and risk with designs any more.

    Well I don't think it's possible to adequately convey the sense of that period, especially the 1950s and into the early 1960s. We expected to enter into a "Jetsons" world of unlimited wonders in our daily lives. By now we thought we would be living on the Moon and Mars, an existence of personal flying saucers and no labor, all gleaming & beautiful, with no blighted inner cities and roadside junkyards.

    Instead I look around and see fashion changes but not a great deal more. True, I'm typing on a home computer, but my view out the window is the same, inside an ordinary residence my grandparents would have recognized. And I'm still driving myself to the supermarket on rubber tires on blacktop roads, like I did 45 years ago, parking between white lines as I try to avoid unreturned shopping carts in a big flat lot. Not what I had expected by now.

    At age 60 my daily life is remarkably unchanged from when I was born, and we all thought marvels and vast changes awaited us, as both my parents & grandparents had experienced in their own lifetimes. It's way past time that you young kids started kicking some ass, and getting us all back in gear! LOL!
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    Jul 21, 2009 11:36 PM GMT
    Polaroid made a brief comeback in the late 90's when they introduced a smaller instant photo camera/format, the i-zone or something like that. It was targeted towards a younger demographic, and it did quite well for a while.. until the price of digital cameras came down.

    They've currently got a new gadget called the Pogo. Portable inkless photo printer that connects directly to your digital camera. Pretty neat, but the prints are expensive. And ridiculously small. About the size of a business card.
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    Jul 21, 2009 11:43 PM GMT
    As a kid, my first real camera was a Polaroid Model 20 "Swinger".....instant B&W pics....I had a ball with it! Too bad a part of photo history will be lost , but I have to think that all of the chemicals and special papers and everything are not real earth friendly.....so maybe its a good evolution....icon_cool.gif
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    Jul 22, 2009 12:00 AM GMT
    Sporty_g saidAs a kid, my first real camera was a Polaroid Model 20 "Swinger".....instant B&W pics....I had a ball with it! Too bad a part of photo history will be lost , but I have to think that all of the chemicals and special paperes and everything are not real earth friendly.....so maybe its a good evolution....icon_cool.gif

    As a technological evolution, digital is great. I love the ability to instantly crop, like I used to do in the darkroom but without all the hassle, and to take hundreds of photos without interruption. I expect soon we'll have the resolution and color saturation that the best Kodak film gave us.

    My OP was merely a fond remembrance, of the simpler wonders we had over 50 years ago, how more easily we were amazed by things now almost forgotten. And by the basic concept of an "instant" photograph in our hands, by whatever means we got it, chemical or digital. The instant nature was the magic of it.
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    Jul 22, 2009 12:19 AM GMT
    I'll be very sad to see the end to polaroid film...for many reasons the OP mentioned.

    Polaroids produce such beautiful images. I love their unpredictability, the slightly desaturated colour, and of course, the magic of instant processing (the 'instant magic' of digital doesn't come close for me).

    I wonder whether any other manufacturer will continue to make and sell polaroid film?

    There has been a resurgence of other quirky, film based, photography - the lomo (lomographic) movement is one: www.lomography.com Maybe there will be a similar polaroid movement to follow (if there isn't already one, that is).

    I recently developed some medium format shots I'd taken with a holga 120 cfn and am excited to experiment with other lomo devices...this is a shot I took in Tokyo earlier this year (frisbees attached to a tree to celebrate the start of the cherry blossom season):

    Frisbee blossom
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    Jul 22, 2009 12:22 AM GMT
    I believe there is a small movement currantly attempting to keep the "Polaroid" film alive, however i'm no idea how it's going, I read only briefly about it in a news thingy before moving on to something else to read.

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    Jul 22, 2009 12:50 AM GMT
    There are people out there that are buying up as much Polaroid film as possible in order to continue taking those instant prints for as long as possible.

    While I do remember those cameras well, and thought they were cool at the time, I do love my digital camera's more. Hell, even my 82 year old mother loves her digital camera, and can't remember what we did before computers and digital photography. A sign of the times I guess.
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    Jul 22, 2009 4:41 AM GMT
    I never owned a Polaroid, but well remember their great advantage for gay guys. You didn't have to take the film to a camera shop or drugstore to get your naughty pictures developed.
  • captproton

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    Jul 22, 2009 8:11 AM GMT
    The new owners of the Polaroid brand announced last month that it has reached an exclusive production, licensing and distribution deal with Summit Global Group, continuing the companies' partnership.

    "The deal covers the making and distributing of a wide variety of Polaroid products, including still photo, digital and video cameras, as well as PoGo mobile products," according to a press release.

    My grandfather had one of the first models back in the 50's. The pictures were smallish and B&W and seemed to take forever to develop and then that coating! What a gawdawful stink!

    I was given an updated camera as a gift in the 70's, although not one of the slick SX-70's. I took mine on a trip to Asia with the intention of trying to document my adventures. What astonishes me is that the single best-preserved image is of a building in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district at night with the neon colors blazing. We're talking nearly 40 years!
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    Jul 22, 2009 8:18 AM GMT
    I did a polaroid project last year... sad they are no longer.. :[
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    Jul 22, 2009 8:26 AM GMT
    you can easily create the Polaroid look in photoshop
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    Jul 22, 2009 8:36 AM GMT
    10 years ago, a friend of mine still had her beautiful leather-clad SX-70 -- it still worked perfectly. What an amazing camera that was.

    Sx70-2.jpg

    Sx70-8.jpg

    She used to carry with her all the time, then using a little wooden stick, do live image manipulation while the emulsion was still wet. The pics would turn out half photo, half impressionist painting. Really beautiful. It was live, real-world, analog Photoshop.

    This album cover was produced with the same technique:

    peter_gabriel_3.jpg