Instant Images Then and Now

It was with deep despair that many Polaroid fans watched a 2008 Sunday Morning piece about the demise of the company’s legendary films. Decades before digital technology, Polaroid offered photographers instant gratification in the form of a fully developed print in less than a minute. From the moment Edward Land’s instant film became available to the public in 1948, a cult was created.

Polaroids were a staple for amateur and professional photographers for decades. Pros working in other film formats used the technology to test studio lighting before running through their rolls of negative or slide film. The public loved the novelty of having a picture pop instantly out of their cameras. The company sold millions of cameras ranging from the 600, featuring Zeiss components, to pocket-sized I-Zone toy cameras. They were high-tech in an analog world.

As video killed the radio star, so digital killed the Polaroid. The novelty of instant photography disappeared when anyone could see their image immediately without the high cost of Polaroid film. The company was slow to embrace the new technology and, after numerous failures in all of their imaging categories, was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. The company was acquired by OEP Imaging Company with plans on bringing it into the digital market while still manufacturing instant film products for the companies many fans. Polaroid fans happily snapped away, hoping their hobby could survive the digital revolution.

Petter’s Group Worldwide bought Polaroid from OEP in 2005. It was an affront to fans when CEO Thomas Petters happily declared, “I think what interested me most about the company was that famous polaroid pixel. The logo. The icon.” It didn’t take long for Petters to put the logo on dozens of products from DVD players to clocks. It was clear that the pixel was the only thing about Polaroid that interested Petters. In 2007, the company announced all instant camera and film production was being halted. The product that made Polaroid famous was going the way of the 8-track.

Petter’s Polaroid had a few ideas they hoped would appeal to the company’s avid fans. The Polaroid Pogo was announced on the heels of the plant closures. The mini-printer contains no ink, relying on special paper created by former Polaroid employees to create business card sized prints. A camera announcement followed and it looked like a Polaroid camera creating instant prints would be back on the market soon.

All of that is in jeopardy now following a September 24th raid on Petter’s Group headquarters. According to authorities, Tom Petters was using Polaroid to run a shareholder ponzi scheme. Polaroid once again filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December. The future of the company is unknown right now.

Fans of Polaroid have tried to move on. They have hoarded film and joined “Save Polaroid” groups. They have hunted on Ebay and Amazon to find replacement cameras from Fuji, the only company left producing instant film products. The Fuji cameras use different film and since that company cannot sell their instant products in North America or Europe due to a decades old patent infridgement lawsuit, it’s been a pricey alternative.

But there is just something about Polaroid. Prints are coveted not only for their distinctive appearance, but because each print was unique. Each print was a single snapshot that could never be fully reproduced. Sure, you could make a color copy or create an copy negative, but it would never be the same as that original print. There is such passion for the prints that a group of former employees have purchased an old Polaroid plant in Ensched, Netherlands in hopes of creating a new line of films that will work with Polaroid cameras.

Polaroid film fans still hold out hope that The Impossible Project will be possible or that Fuji will create products that will be compatible with their Polaroid cameras. Most of all they hope they will never have to contribute to “The Last Polaroid on Earth“.

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