Polaroid’s Instant Film has its last run
December 8th, 2008 by scaredpoet


Some might say its death was long-overdue in a digital world. Others continue to cling to it and bristle at the changes in photographic technology. Regardless of what side you’re on, the demise of the Polaroid instant film format has been slow and tortuous, and if finally reaching its end.

This month marks the final production run of Polaroid film, with availability of the format expected to dwindle by late 2009. And although Polaroid is trying to assuage fans of the format with a digital surrogate, the PoGo Instant Mobile Printer, There’s still a dedicated group of Luddites format zealots who insist that the format’s discontinuation will be a serious crimp on their artistic creativity. Most of them have congregated at Save Polaroid, a site where technophobes enthusiasts hope to either convince Polaroid that their business decision is unwise, or get some other manufacturer to keep making the film.

Polaroid’s business case for dumping the format needs little explanation, really. For the price of a couple of packs of Polaroid film, anyone can buy a basic digital camera that creates images of arguably much better quality. And that’s assuming you don’t already have one built into your cell phone. And in the time it takes to wait for a Polaroid to develop and the image to fade into view, a digital image can be on flickr, or Myspace, or MobileMe or dozens of other sites, seen by anyone who cares to view it.

Before you criticize: I agree, a cell phone camera or a $75 Walmart special isn’t going to give you gallery-quality photographs. But then again, neither will a Polaroid. I mean, really… in my childhood I was given a cheap drugstore 110-film camera that produced images way better than the bulky, expensive, handed-down Land Camera the parents brought out from time to time. Even before I got my photographic chops, I knew the images from the Polaroid were embarrassingly bad. But if you wanted an image right away before the 1990s, well, that’s what you had to put up with. And lots of childhood photos and memories were recorded on those thick, white-bordered sheets.

Perhaps I’m just a digital purist at heart, and that’s why the imperfections of Polaroid make it repugnant to me. But for some reason, those dingbats fine, dedicated people at Save Polaroid find the flawed nature of Instamatic Film to be the very reason the format should be “saved.”

I can’t argue with the convenience and clarity of digital imaging. I use my digital camera all the time. It takes beautiful pictures and I don’t have to worry about loading film. But of the thousands of digital photos I have taken in my life, 99.9% of them will likely sit on a hard drive as raw data for an eternity, never to be transferred to paper, displayed, or shared.

With instant film you don’t get to make the choice of whether or not a picture is “good enough” to make a print. You get a print every time. You can’t just hit delete because someone was making a weird face, or the framing wasn’t quite right or in some way the image doesn’t live up to the unattainable idea of perfection we have all have in our heads from being exposed to too many Photoshopped images. The picture comes out no mater what.

Call me dumb, but can’t these issues be resolved through the use of photo sharing sites, printing digital photos on a printer, and just plain refusing to hit the “delete” button when you don’t like the way an image came out? Camera memory and hard drive space are cheap these days. Cheaper in fact, than… well, film.

I suppose a point can be made here that some find artistic value in imperfection. This is the very foundation of Lomography – the “art” of crappy photos taken on crappy cameras by mediocre amateurs, solely for the kitsch of the weird effects made by flawed optics. To some, the washed-out colors, poor image depth and sub-standard clarity of Polaroid instant film makes it a similarly accessible artform to the masses of shutterbugs who find the challenge of making a good photograph on a good camera just a little too demanding.

In any case, while some are bemoaning the loss of this film format, I’m fairly confident that in a way it proponents have little to worry about… the motto “don’t think, just shoot” will surivive just fine in the digital age.

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