Christopher Bonanos, a senior editor of New York magazine, has written a book to be released on September 29th 2012, charting the dramatic tale of the Polaroid camera. “Instant: The Story of Polaroid” uncovers the history behind this iconic brand, discussing everything from its rise in popularity and pop-culture status to its later decline into bankruptcy. Created by Edwin Land in 1937, Polaroid was initially developed from a garage workshop. The company flourished and its first instant camera was introduced in 1948. Polaroid has been brought back to life in recent years with Steve Jobs, one of the most prolific people in the digital age, citing Land and Polaroid as his personal inspiration and modelling Apple on the Polaroid concept.
Polaroid has been brought back to life in recent years with Steve Jobs, one of the most prolific people in the digital age, citing Land and Polaroid as his personal inspiration and modelling Apple on the Polaroid concept.
Here we talk to Bonanos, finding out more about the new book and also his photography blog site Polaroidland…
Q1. What inspired you to write “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”?
Well, I was always a fan. My dad and grandmother both had Polaroid cameras, and I always found them compelling. Then I got one of my own when I was about 14–a secondhand one from the late fifties, a big weird-looking thing with a bellows. I remember a couple of long phone calls to Polaroid’s customer-service department, where someone very patiently walked me through how to use it, and that’s how I started off. Like a lot of people, I drifted in and out of shooting Polaroid over the years, but I never quite lost my affection for it. Then when Polaroid announced the end of its film manufacturing in 2008, I wrote a small story about it for New York magazine, and the photographer-artists I talked to were not nostalgic but angry. “This didn’t have to happen” was the prevailing sentiment, and I started looking into the downfall of the company, and pretty quickly realized that its rise and fall was a fantastic story.
Q2. Your site Polaroidland.net extensively covers the world of instant photography- how do you
think Polaroid changed the face of photography in general?
You could make a serious case–and I try to in the book–that the ascent of Polaroid was the very beginning of social networking. When you shoot a Polaroid photo of a child at a party and hand it to his mom or dad, it takes maybe 90 seconds to develop. In that time, you talk about the kid, watch the photo come out, linger over it. Then it gets handed off as a gift. Its a pretty close analogy to the way we all swap photos on Facebook all the time, tagging each other.
Instant: The Story of Polaroid
Photo credit: Casualoptimist.com
Q3. Do you feel that the story of Polaroid has more cultural relevance now due to the popularity
of apps such as Instagram?
Sure. Just the other day, I was visiting an artist, and he was showing me boxes and boxes of his Polaroid photos from the eighties. They look uncannily like Instagram pictures: the same kind of casual snapshots of people eating, jumping in the pool, sitting around on the porch. People use those two technologies exactly the same way, and Polaroid was there first. You know, Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, once said that the future of photography would be a camera “that you use all the time … like the telephone. Something you use every day, like your pencil, or your eyeglasses.” He described it as something the size of a wallet that you’d carry everywhere, pulling it out of your pocket and grabbing photos all day long, when you didn’t want to depend on your memory or saw a scene you wanted to preserve. That sounds a whole lot like a smartphone.
Q4. How does Polaroid fit into the digital era?
Well, obviously, a lot of the stuff people did with instant photography is managed more easily with digital cameras. The current owners of the Polaroid trademark make a very nifty digital camera that incorporates an inkless thermal printer, and it’s often nice to have a print in the field. But I’d say that traditional Polaroid photography shouldn’t be pressed into a digital mold. Today, analog film is a different tool–it looks different and feels different, and is used for different things. I use a digital SLR and a couple of Polaroid cameras constantly, and certain settings and moments pretty clearly belong to one or the other.
Photo credit: Mashkulture.net
Q5. Whilst Polaroid stopped making film in 2008 is it time for its official return?
There are lots of people making that happen. Fuji is still in the instant-film business, with its own line of cameras, plus film for certain older Polaroid models. Polaroid makes its little thermal printer, as I said. And a small company called the Impossible Project swooped in and grabbed the last Polaroid factory a few days before its equipment was to be demolished. Impossible has spent a couple of years trying to reinvent analog instant film, and it has been an uphill battle, because they don’t have the supply chains Polaroid did–a lot of the ingredients are no longer made, and Impossible had to do a lot of workarounds, which affected their product quality quite a bit. The first versions of Impossible’s film were experimental and unstable, and they were very difficult to use. Since then, each batch has improved a lot, and the current product looks uncannily like Polaroid’s old stuff. Those guys have the Pola-bug even worse than I do.