Saying Goodbye to the Polaroid
When the digital camera came along, the long-reigning king of photographic convenience, the Polaroid camera, was dethroned. It would take another decade or so for digital technology to so rob the point-and-shoot Polaroid of its market share that it effectively died as a consumer product "“ and this month we mourn its passing. The last roll of instant Polaroid film will roll off the line sometime very soon, though aficionados will never admit that it became obsolete. The Polaroid's funky colors and fisheye close-ups could create the tamest of family snapshots or the weirdest of pop art pieces (Warhol loved his Polaroid camera, and for years snapped pants-down crotch-shots of any visitors to his Factory who would submit to his prying lens).
It's a technology responsible for a million unintentional masterpieces, most certainly lost to time and trash and garage sales; those that are found are treasured, and sometimes end up in the pages of magazines like Found or on this very website. Peppered throughout this blog are some of our favorite Polaroids, courtesy Found magazine:
A few weeks ago, the New York Times eulogized the Polaroid's passing poignantly:
Mystery clung to each impending image as it took shape, the camera conjuring up pictures of what was right before one's eyes, right before one's eyes. The miracle of photography, which Polaroids instantly exposed, never lost its primitive magic. And what resulted, as so many sentimentalists today lament, was a memory coming into focus on a small rectangle of film.
Glossy talismans in unreal colors, as ephemeral as breath on glass, they wreaked all the more havoc with our emotions for being so unassuming and commonplace.
Ultimately, though, it's the populist tradition that lends the demise of Polaroid instant film its poignancy: the power of all those ordinary pictures to salvage forgotten lives — and the finality of the moment after which the mass of billions of snapshots preserving millions of anonymous instants of happiness or private consequence ceases to grow and, with us, heads toward oblivion.
But don't cry for Polaroid -- like the VW Beetle of old, they'll be found on the shelves of used camera shops for decades to come, and like fine wine, they only grow more funky and quirky with age.
Finally, here are a few 50s-era found Polaroids of my own, rescued from a neglected pile of photographs found at my grandparents' house.