Tag Archives: news

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“.


Googling Life

Google is a media behemoth. The company mastered search back in the nineties and has gradually worked to engulf just about anything else you can do on the web (or your phone) ever since. Usually I hate this type of activity, please reference Microsoft or NewsCorp as examples of companies earning my ire, but I still see puffy little hearts whenever I think of Google. I suspect my school girl crush probably has a lot to do with things like the Life Magazine Photo Archive.

Life Magazine was started in 1883, but it probably would have gone the way of Beadle’s Monthly or Potter’s American Monthly had it not been acquired by Henry Luce in 1936. Luce was a media titan in the early part of the 20th century. He owned Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated and it was figured that one in five Americans read one of his publications every week. He bought Life not for its general interest content, but for its intriguing name. He turned the weekly into what is regarded history’s greatest fount of photojournalism. The way in which the magazine covered the biggest stories of the 20th century made it the best selling magazine of all time.

If you were a photographer in the 20th Century, you dreamed of being in Life the way young ballerinas dreampt of dancing in the New York City Ballet. Life made words mere modifiers of the image. The New York Times points out this week that while text may have been secondary to the image in Life, it is necessary to the storytelling in this millennium. Google has done fantastic job of bringing these images to a world-wide modern audience, but without context, some of the relevance is lost.

While there is no easy way to browse content, it’s hard not to love what Google has done. Here are a few of the notable images you can find with a little digging on Google’s Life Magazine Archive:

One of Dorothea Langes icon images

One of Dorothea Lange's famous images

Dorothea Lange was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration documenting the hardship brought on migrant works during The Dust Bowl when she captured a series of photographs that would forever define that era. The magazine only printed one photo from her series, but kept the rest in its archives. The most famous of the series, Migrant Mother, is in the public domain and can be found all over the internet.

Alfred Eisenstaedt iconic image from New Yorks celebration of the Victory Over Japan.

Alfred Eisenstaedt iconic image from New York's celebration of the Victory Over Japan.

Alfred Eisenstaedt captured what is without question one of the most famous photographs ever taken at VJ Day in Times Square. He once said of the image, “I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all – young girls and old ladies alike… The sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn’t been a nurse, if she’d been dressed in dark clothes, I wouldn’t have had a picture. People tell me that when I’m in heaven, they will remember this picture.”

John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy on the lawn at their home prior to his election as President.

John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy on the lawn at their home prior to his election as President.

Paul Schutzer took this photo in 1960 in the months before John F. Kennedy was elected president. Henry Luce was a staunch Texas Republican and Life’s editorial staff often pushed the magazine towards more conservative viewpoints, but the magazine often ran features on the first family.

Is Digital Imaging Invading Your Privacy?

cctvChicago presents the latest point in the ongoing debate about privacy in our technologically advanced world.  The New York Times reported in an article yesterday that the city has tied surveillance cameras into its 911 network. According to the article, police dispatchers would have a video of a caller’s location sent to them within seconds of receiving an emergency call. The high-tech wizardry that sounds like it’s right out of a James Bond novel has privacy watchdogs once again calling foul.

Groups like the ACLU and the Center for Digital Democracy have been working at holding back the tide of what they see as a increasing invasion of personal privacy in our highly connected world. Google’s Street View has raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic because it puts photos of millions of locations around the world on it’s Google Maps application. A couple in Pittsburgh just lost their suit to have the images removed and a town in Minnesota claimed the company ignored “Private Property” signs and demanded images be removed (although how an entire town can claim it is private property, I have no idea). The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California has reported numerous complaints about Google drivers using private roads to obtain images for the service.

It’s not just private citizens up in arms about the Google service. In March of 2008, the Pentagon had to contact the company to have it remove a number of images taken of military bases. The images not only showed the exact location of the bases, but the location of guards, entry points, etc.

Google isn’t just stopping with two dimensional images. The company has reported that it’s Street View team has been assembling 3D information for a future project.

England began it’s history with closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) when London implimented the devices for public surveillance during a visit by the Thai Royal Family in 1960. Camera installation was localized until 1985, when the coastal city of Bournemouth installed a street-based video surveillance system. Newcastle installed a city wide system in 1992 and by 1996, all but one of England’s major cities had full scale systems. There are over one and half million cameras in city centers throughout England.

The cameras were installed to help curb violence, but have they proven effective? Not really, according to a study recently completed by Scotland Yard. According to a Guardian article on the subject, only 3% of crimes were solved by the multi-billion dollar system. Steve Swain served for years with the London Metropolitan Police and its counter-terror operations before leaving for a job with Control Risk, an international security firm. He says any cities thinking of using the cameras to stop crimes before they are committed should save their money. “I don’t know of a single incident where CCTV has actually been used to spot, apprehend or detain offenders in the act,”  he said.

Cities like Chicago and New York should take all of this into consideration before installing cameras that cost taxpayers billions while invading their rights to privacy.