Everyone has an opinion. So often at my photo shoots, the Canon 5D DSLR camera that I usually use is passed around to the celeb subject, the stylist, the make-up and hair person, the agent, sometimes even the chaiwalla (kidding!) to squint at the tiny LCD screen to squeal their delight or growl their displeasure (“See I told you my left side is better”).
The magical immediacy of digital photography is a potent force, but it was not so long back that the same ritual was being done over a Polaroid picture, ripped from a back attached to the camera—still damp and developing before your eyes. There was something exciting about peeling back a Polaroid photo and seeing the image develop slowly.
Now, like the process in reverse, the image of the Polaroid—dimming for years—has finally gone black. The often artsy, instantly gratifying Polaroid images, reeking of processing chemicals, have finally been done in by the millions of Flickr Internet pages full of digital images, flawlessly produced by cameras that do not require film, emulsion, chemicals or anything bigger than a pocket to carry them around. Polaroid is closing factories in the US, Mexico and the Netherlands, and will belatedly focus on producing digital cameras, portable printers for mobile phones, TVs and DVD players. As of now, Polaroid instant film is on its deathbed. Polaroid had already stopped making cameras last year.
The popular Polaroid film will no longer be available in the market
Polaroid cameras were rare and pricey in India in Polaroid’s heyday, and those fortunate enough to have one often had to wait for months to get instant film. I am a child of the Agfa Isoly Click III/Yashica/Electrolux generation, and I was 11 years old when the Polaroid SX-70—the first instant camera that shot a photo out of the camera with no work needed from the photographer—was released in 1972. I finally did manage to lay my hands on an SX-70 camera in my college days, and what it did felt closer to magic than any other piece of personal technology I can think of.
Polaroid was started by entrepreneur Edwin Land in 1937. Land was inspired by his young daughter Jennifer’s demands to see the pictures “now”. That inspired him to create a mix of chemicals that would develop the image inside a sealed, portable unit, rather than having to use an entire darkroom of fluid trays and sheet paper that was previously required. The first model was released in 1948, but the Polaroid craze did not emerge until the production of the 1965 Swinger, which was voted one of the Top 50 gadgets of the last century by PC World magazine. The Swinger’s big innovation was its photometer button: When the shot’s light was just right, the word “YES” lit up in the viewfinder. At $19.95 (around Rs800), it was cheap for a Polaroid and they literally sold in millions. The advertising, aimed squarely at the young and hip, also helped it become an instant best-seller, as you can see from the commercial at www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7k2uwJmwxo.
Polaroid will be focusing its business on printers, such as the new ZINK that can print images off cameras and phones
The 1980s and 1990s saw continued popularity for the Polaroid, helped by its most famous user, Andy Warhol. It featured in movies such as Boogie Nights (1997) and Memento (2000) as a fetish object, something to be fondled and worshipped, like Apple has done so brilliantly with their slick and pricey products. Polaroid’s revenues peaked at $2 billion-plus change in 1994, but it went downhill from there. Polaroid was so stuck in its model that it couldn’t recognize the unstoppable swing away from analogue technology to digital, and thus ended up stuck in a mechanical, hard copy world. When photography went digital in the late 1990s, all cameras become instant cameras in most respects that mattered and Polaroid’s days were numbered.
As the company seeks to reverse its fortunes and gain a foothold in digital photography this year, Polaroid plans to sell a tiny photo printer which requires no ink and prints business card-sized pictures. Polaroid is combining the best of digital photography with the company’s instant roots through a convenient pick-what-you-print function. Slightly larger than a deck of cards, the Polaroid ZINK printer is a convenient, portable way to turn mobile phone and digital camera images into tangible memories. Weighing only a few ounces, it produces borderless, full-colour, 2x3-inch ZINK prints in a matter of seconds without a drop of ink. The printer easily connects to digital cameras through a PictBridge USB cable and to camera phones wirelessly through Bluetooth. The Polaroid Digital Instant Mobile Photo Printer is due out in stores 2008 (www.polaroid.com/onthego).
The digital age has claimed yet another scalp. Polaroid, I will miss you.
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