Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


A hard-core bunch of imaging technology revivalists is bringing back the Polaroid, so I hear.

Dubbed “The Impossible Project,” the effort is the brainchild of a handful of former Polaroid employees. Their target market? Retro hipsters, evidently. They’ve teamed up with Urban Outfitters to market their new/old films, some of which are new variations on the old Polaroid SX-70 film... and all of which are made on old Polaroid equipment purchased by the Project.

It’s the perfect technology for the Snapshot as Art, at least as evidenced by the photographs posted at the Urban Outfitters Everything Is Possible show site. Old-style analog wet-chemical photographs have a certain... flavor that digital seems to lack. Maybe it’s the very fact that you get what you get when you shoot Polaroid: There’s no post-production image tweakage.

In these days of digital imagery in which every photograph is available instantly, it’s easy to forget just how mind-boggling Polaroid technology was. Instead of taking your film to the corner drugstore and waiting several days for the results - or, for the more adventuresome, spending a couple of hours fiddle-fucking around in a darkroom - you got your picture right away. It was... amazing!

My first exposure (you should excuse the expression) to Polaroid was early on in my Snot-Nose Days. My Uncle Gerry’s brother-in-law Stewie had one of the real old-school jobbies: it was a folding camera with a bellows. You’d shoot your picture, pull a tab, wait sixty seconds, and then open a door in the back to reveal the finished black-and-white picture. You would peel the photo off its backing and then apply a few coats of a pungent-smelling pink neutralizing lacquer, without which it would fade away to oblivion.

Eventually, newer models appeared. You’d take your picture, pull a tab, and the photograph would come along with it - no more opening the back of the camera. Even more exciting, the black-and-white film got better and faster - only ten seconds from snap to finished picture - and there was even color film for those who were patient enough to wait a full minute.

The coolest Polaroid invention arrived in 1972: the SX-70. A snazzy-looking folding SLR camera (!), you’d load it with a 10-exposure film pack that contained both the film and the battery that would fire the flash (a separate snap-in 10-bulb flashbar) and operate the motor. When you took a picture, that motor would shove the film through rollers that would squish the self-contained developer pods and schmear their contents uniformly across the image, and then eject the picture. You’d grab it as it popped out and then watch as the blank, greyish-white image are slowly blossomed into... a color photograph! Better yet, unlike earlier generations of Polaroid film, there was nothing to peel apart: everything was in one self-contained integrated package. The SX-70 camera spat out a complete photograph, ready to look at (after a minute) and shove in an album or tack to the wall. No layers to peel, no messy coatings to apply. It was as close to magic as anything we could imagine.

It’s a laughably complicated, Rube Goldberg-like technology by today’s standards, but those of us who carry around a load of nostalgia in our pants still may shed a wistful tear as we remember it.

But the good folks at the Impossible Project are not satisfied with mere wistful memories. They’re bringing back the Polaroid, and I wish them every success. (I’m sure we still have an old SX-70 Model 1 in the basement somewhere.)

Next up: Reviving the daguerreotype. ’Cause if you’re gonna bring back obsolete technology, why not bring one back that combines beautiful results with real health and environmental hazards?


Ole Phat Stu said...

Currently, I'm looking for a slide rule, preferably one that went to the moon (see http://www.antiquark.com/sliderule/sim/n909es/virtual-n909-es.html) or was aboard the Mir (a VEB Mantissa?).

Far out! ;-)

Rich said...

My father received one of the first SX-70 cameras in 1972 as a gift (at $180 it was a heck of a gift).

As bizarre as it looked, my father had always had one of the expanding-bellows Polaroids around, so it wasn't such a big stretch.

Besides, with the chrome case and light brown leather, it really was beautiful, at least closed.

He had poor eyesight, and never could really use the viewfinder, so I inherited it and he moved on to the auto-focus version.

I still have the camera, though last time I tried a pack of film it didn't work.

I have a drawer-full of pics from that camera, and a lot of good memories.

I wonder if anyone repairs them.

og said...

I love my old SX-70. Great camera. You can still find film someplaces.

KeesKennis said...

In Freetown SL, this year, I had my visa photos taken by a Polaroid. Somebody still makes the film.