Saturday, August 30, 2014

Polaroid The Good The Bad & The Ugly

Polaroid: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I recently watched Time Zero The Last Year of Polaroid Film on Netflix. The trailer is here. I enjoyed the documentary a great deal. I was reminiscing about film right away—about the old way things were done. I also mulled over—like the film did—what has been lost to digital. I dug out my shoebox filled with Polaroids and marveled at them in awe. I then went on Amazon and ordered up some very pricey Impossible Project instant film. Earlier today, four packs came in the mail. I opened one up. Loaded in the film. Grabbed my kids. And took some pictures.

Ugh. WTF?

Then I remembered. Polaroid was not that great. Impossible instant film is even less great.

Impossible shot VS iPhone 5s Instagram
Now do not get me wrong. I LOVED Polaroid. L O V E D it! I took hundreds of Polaroids back in the days when paying $10 for 10 shots was a huge chunk of change. I still look at some of my better old Polaroids and consider them part of my collection of art pieces.

I even ran a small Polaroid show at a gallery a few years back, right at the time when Polaroid died. You can read the entire article about Polaroid, and my small show here.

Don't even ask how much the Impossible instant film cost. And it is only eight shots per pack. And it takes between 10-40 minutes to develop one color shot. And it must be shielded from light after ejecting. And in the end, well, it's kinda, sorta, just a crappy Polaroid. And I was a Polaroid fan. But guess what? I've mostly moved on.

Is it fun to have instant film in my old Polaroid cameras? Hell yea! Is it all I want from photography? No. And only now that the "real" Polaroid is gone does anyone give a shit. Back in the day, only wacky artists, modeling agencies, kids, and the DMV used Polaroid.

The end came eventually. Despite all the purists, despite all the art lovers, they couldn't put film back together again. Like Humpty, it fell off the wall and eventually met its untimely death. Sure you can still shoot film. You can still shell out for Polaroid. You can still set up a darkroom and Ansel Adams it all the way home. Seriously though, I'm not doing that. And statistically, whatever your taste for the film/digital debate may be, well, you likely are not shooting film either.

My Polaroid to art  circa 1991
As an artist who painted, I used film and Polaroid all the time. I snapped away over and over, confined by the cost of film, developing, printing, albums, etc. It was expensive. The prints still take up a lot of space. They are not easily accessed. And quite frankly, they mostly never looked all that great. Too dark. Too light. Overexposed. Underexposed. Silhouetted. Totally blown out white. Completely 100% black. Too vivid. Too dull. Ultimately, more often than not, the pictures were not what I remembered shooting. In the end, I had to live with my color prints and Polaroids. They were all I had. I used them for everything. I made art from them. Blew them up. Traced them. Double exposed them. I even shot Polaroids off my TV. I messed with the colors. Screwed with the V-hold. And on and on and on. It was the best I could do, pre Lightroom/Photoshop. Pre digital.
V-hold video Polaroid shot off a TV. 
Polaroid and film junkies think anything digital sucks right? I'm not here to convince anyone of anything. If you cannot see the merits of digital photography and art, there is no point citing examples to convince you otherwise. I'm very much pro-digital. I also love film, Polaroid, and everything else too. I feel if there is a will, there is a way. The Impossible Project proved that there is still a market for the traditional look and feel of instant film. Not for me, though. I'll always love Polaroid. I'll always get nostalgic for it, possibly spend way too much for 8 shot packs, and like a moth to a flame, do what I did today, again. Not too often, though.

For me and what I want as a photographer and an artist, digital is way better.

Digital gives me what I want. Polaroid gives me what it gives me. Instagram takes what was good about Polaroid and ditches what was bad. Polaroid even has a new mobile photo app. It's pretty cool.

Physical prints you say? Sure. I love 'em. I have thousands of them. I only have limited wall space, though. With the old way, you need to come over to my house, sit with me, and somehow I'd have to hand you my photo albums for you too look at. Now you don't even need to know me. For those lacking inhibition and daring enough to put up personal photos, now the world is your gallery.

When a Polaroid print came out nice there was nothing like it. Still, once digital was here, I often used Photoshop to adjust my Polaroids to get them even closer to what I saw in my head.

I keep hearing that my film may outlast my digital shots. Maybe. I really don't care. In the end, nothing will last. Eventually, the sun will explode and it will all be lost. For now though, for the moment, with social media up and running, and my nice, big, 30-inch monitor in front of me, I'm happy as a clam. My iPad is easier to look at than any photo album.

Here are some of my more interesting old Polaroids. I'll spare you the hundreds of crappy ones.

And here are some more of my Polaroid Experiments from way back when.

Here is my Instagram feed.

As always, thanks for reading.

—Adam