06 April 2010

Impossible Polaroids

Today The Guardian is running this story about a company trying to maintain production of Polaroid film. As I've noted several times here, I don't get the Polaroid thing. And I am not terribly concerned with the technical aspects of photography (other than insisting that it is a technology that we use to do things with and, as such, - trivially - has crucial technical dimensions). In any case, Sean O'Hagan writes:
"Given the right kind of marketing . . . the . . . film will probably succeed, but the bigger question underlying all this techo-primitive innovation is, why do so many of us long for the Polaroid in all its clunky, clumsy, grainy old-fashionedness?"
Good question. Unfortunately, I find his answer incomprehensible (literally, I don't know what he means):
"The answer, I suspect, is to do with the kind of demands a Polaroid camera makes on the user, which are manifestly not the same kind of demands a digital camera makes. One is big, hands-on, clunky, somewhat difficult and, even in an expert's hands, can be hit-and-miss. The other is streamlined, compact, easy, and relatively fail-safe in terms of the end results – you shoot and delete until you capture the image you want. One is somehow "authentic", the other is arguably even more so but does not carry the weight of the relatively recent, thus overly fetishised, pop-cultural past.
Maybe it's me, but this last part (especially) seems like gibberish. It amounts to saying that we now have nostalgia for a technology that we used to like because it had a certain nostalgic character. Huh? That said, if Patti Smith thinks Polaroids are OK, who am I to argue?

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Blogger Brenda said...

I think part of what he's trying to say is about skill. With a Polaroid, you have to organise your head before you take the photograph: make choices about depth of field etc. With the digital camera you click a lot until you get something approaching what you want, and delete the rest. It's like having one bullet for that pigeon, instead of a bagful of lead shot (if you'll forgive my analogy). Arguably if you organise your critical thinking functions in advance, the result will be uh, better.

Saw Patti Smith in a small but sold-out concert last week. She is magnificent. 62, you know. :)

07 April, 2010 02:29  
Blogger Public Squalor said...

Well Polaroids do look different than pictures created using other types of photo processes so I suppose there's a reason to exploit that look in certain circumstances. However, having attended photo/art schools I can say that there was a faction completely absorbed in the alchemy and nostalgia of outdated photochemical processes. Imagine a group of otherwise intelligent people engaged in a passionate debate over the value of calotypes. Who gives a shit?

07 April, 2010 13:30  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

So long as there are rich hipsters at SVA, Polaroid will never die.

08 April, 2010 12:28  
Blogger mbuitron said...

The "clunkiness" is appreciated by folks who like a little randomness and unpredictability in the end result. I think there's some overlap here with aficionados of the light-leaking Holgas. Also, in Cathie Opie's "In and Around Home," she showed traditional photos taken in her neighborhood with Polaroids of the TV in her living room. My understanding is that she feels that Polaroid was the last manipulated image--it still possesses a shred of the veracity that the photograph had implied. Because you only get one image, and other than pushing the emulsion around to create random distortions, you know the photo-object and place pictured once occupied the same space. Seeing Bush and his cronies on TV while they make the case for invading Iraq gives context to the images of Opie's political yard signs and neighborhood kids getting stopped by the police.

08 April, 2010 15:35  
Blogger Evelyn Brister said...

Is there an adequate substitute for immediate gratification?
I thought instant film had become moribund--and hard to find but at Eamon's (first) trip to the dentist earlier this year, out came the Polaroid camera to memorialize the visit. No substitute for putting a picture immediately into his hands--and since then posted with pride on the refrigerator.

16 April, 2010 20:18  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

E - Interestingly, Just before I opened your comment I came across an essay from The Nation a few months back (link below); I'm not sure how I overlooked it at the time, but no matter.

The author writes, referring to Polaroids, of "the immediate gratification, the narcissistic fix offered by the picture that rolls out of the camera and develops right before your eyes" and how that fix now gets met by digital devices of various sorts (e.g. cell phone cameras) thereby accounting for the demise of Polaroids.

So, while I completely understand why Eamon (and even his rightfully adoring parents!) find instant pics irresistible, what might we say about their attraction for, say, Walker Evans?

Hope all is well!!


You can find The Nation story here: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100111/schwabsky

16 April, 2010 22:17  

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