The Death of the Polaroid


These aren’t really Polaroids. I know they look like a stack of Polaroid pictures, but in reality they’re just a little Picasa 2 magic. Pick a folder, click the button, and all your pictures pile up like a mid 70s post-Christmas coffee table. It’s quick. It’s fun. It’s technology.

You might as well have a jumble of digitally fake Polaroids, because ladies and gentlemen – this time next year you won’t be able to take a real Polaroid picture. That’s right. The company is shutting down factories that produce the instant film and whatever’s out there may be all that’s left.

Can you imagine?

I don’t want to sound curmudgeony, but that’s real family history we’re watching disappear. Holidays in the 60s weren’t complete without a hundred double-exposed pictures covering the stereo cabinet, the dining room table, the top of the TV, every flat surface, just waiting to develop.

And the shake – remember that? I’m not completely sure why we shook the pictures while they developed, but everyone did. The earliest of them had a strange pink squeegee-looking tool that spread some sort of noxious chemical over the picture to…well, what was it for? I don’t remember, but it was mighty important for us not to touch those Christmas pictures until Dad said they were dry.

A digital picture can be deleted at the source, or kept and manipulated using scads of different software. I can take digital pictures of The Perfect Grandson and turn his eyes from blue to green, or I can cut and paste the Loch Ness monster in the background and tell him he went to Ireland as an infant. Anything is possible, even if it shouldn’t be.

A Polaroid picture is truth, warts and all. There’s something comforting in producing something and then leaving it as it is. Digital manipulation is always its own state of flux because it can be endlessly altered. There is art, however, in timing the one perfect click and watching a Polaroid photograph bloom right in front of you. After that click, you’re a spectator.

There are some folks out there mad or sad enough to do something about it. At Save Polaroid they’ve already given up trying to get the company to keep manufacturing film. Instead, the Save folk are splaying themselves out over all sorts of digital media in an effort to convince someone – anyone – to buy the plants and keep making the film. There are TV appearances, photoblogs, online social networks, and a website full of petitions (signed digitally), but I don’t hold out much hope.

If Polaroid can’t make money they won’t make the film, and neither will anyone else. That’s just business.

Until all the film is gone, I think I’m going to hoard a little. Maybe put together a Polaroid photo essay and eulogize a photographic era.