Details, slow photography
Polaroid, best known for its instant cameras, stopped making film in 2008. That same year, rather than watch Polaroid fade into extinction, some former employees teamed up to form the Impossible Project. They saved the production machinery in the Netherlands and were able to start manufacturing new instant film for old Polaroid cameras.
Today, according to the Impossible Project, there are more than 100 million of these classic cameras that can use Impossible’s film, which hit the market in 2010. Some are in our parents’ attics; others are stuffed in boxes at yard sales; and more and more, they can be found — refurbished and shiny — at retro camera stores across the country.
Not surprisingly, says Cory Verellen, owner of Rare Medium, a photography store in Seattle, some of the biggest Polaroid enthusiasts are teens and young adults who have never known a camera that wasn’t digital.
“But then you also get folks my age — I’m 39 — who grew up with instant cameras and want to capture some of the magic of their childhood,” he says. “Every time I’d go to my grandma’s, she’d break out the same Polaroid camera and shoot us to measure our progress. The Polaroid was ubiquitous in the U.S. I get a lot of customers who are nostalgic for that.”
There’s also a sense of backlash against digital technology, and the emergence of what might be called a “slow photo” movement.
“Our demographic is pretty young, so we’re talking about a generation who grew up in digital, and they see our film as a way to escape,” says Dave Bias, vice president of Impossible America. Initially, Impossible sold about 30 to 40 refurbished Polaroid cameras a month — found largely on eBay and through pickers (people who find cameras at yard sales). Today, it sells more than 2,500 each month and has standing orders through the end of the year.
But it’s not all about nostalgia, says Bias. “For us, it’s showing that film has a viable place in the modern world,” he says. “People can have a real physical photo — something they can touch, something tangible.”
Next month, Impossible will take the ultimate step in the marriage of digital and analog when it releases its first hardware device, the Instant Lab. Rather than taking instant pictures on vintage cameras, the portable Instant Lab allows users to transfer digital images from an iPhone onto instant Impossible film. It will be demonstrated Sept. 19-29 at Photoville (www.photovillenyc.org), a pop-up village in Brooklyn Bridge Park.