A polaroid from my birthday few years back.

The Spirit of Polaroid

June 07, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

I still remember my first Polaroid picture. It was at a primary school classmate’s birthday party in McDonald’s, the birthday girl’s mother helped her to take a Polaroid with every party guest as a souvenir. After that I begged my mom incessantly to buy me a Polaroid camera. It was fascinating how the little machine could instantly print out a photo and the picture would gradually appear with exposure to light. Of course, back then I didn’t know how Polaroids worked and that made it all the more mesmerizing. It was like magic watching the photo come to life. I never got a Polaroid camera though; my mom said it was expensive and unpractical.

My memory is slightly fuzzy, and I don’t know about others, but I think beyond the age of ten I rarely came across Polaroids anymore. Recently, looking at Facebook it seems all of a sudden Polaroids are very much back in fashion. Everyone has a Polaroid after a party or a night out. Visiting Mong Kok you’d see dozens of youngsters lining up for a $20 Polaroid on the street by Instant20.

I did a little research on the history of Polaroid and it dates back to 1947 when Edwin Land, the co-founder of Polaroid Corporation, invented instant photography. Since then, Polaroid’s popularity rose and sustained; even attracting artists like Andy Warhol to use it in art making. Eventually, though, Polaroid was outcompeted by digital cameras and in 2001 Polaroid Corporation filed for bankruptcy. In 2008, they ceased all production of its instant photography technology.

Yet in 2010, Polaroid Corp. announced its instant photography comeback. Today, they’re still selling instant film and cameras and in fact companies like Fujifilm never stopped producing even during Polaroid Corp.’s hiatus.

I find it very interesting how amid daily revolutionizing technology there’s still a place for Polaroid. It seems the more advanced our society becomes, and the faster our technologies are renewed, the stronger our tendency to desire what’s vintage, simple and basic.

What is it about Polaroid that’s so intriguing? I think firstly is probably how candid Polaroids are. Photography was invented to capture life as it is. But nowadays, we can snap-feedback-delete-and-retake in seconds; take ‘selfies’ that allow us to capture that perfect angle of our face; and photoshop to engineer the exact reality we wanted to capture. Photographs aren’t all that candid anymore are they? And I admit, sometimes it’s too tempting not to fix those candid flaws when you know you can (hello Instagram filters). The charm of Polaroid is that it’s instant, truthful, unique and somewhat mysterious. There’s never knowing how a picture is going to turn out until it does. That makes it much more thrilling than a regular picture.

The charm of Polaroid probably also lies in the fact that it’s vintage. It’s iconic of an era, regardless of whether it’s one that we belonged to, that we can only hope to taste again with memorabilia. People have a way of romanticizing the past and the idea of nostalgia along with it. For some, there’s actually things to be nostalgic about. For others, it’s the idea and novelty of being nostalgic that’s appealing. When nostalgia becomes fashion it loses its meaning and I also wonder if Polaroid is becoming a fashion fad.

To me what’s appealing about Polaroid is not so much the physical properties of the photograph or how vintage or fashionable it is. It’s the spirit that it embodies–to capture an instant slice of life that presents us as we are. A carefree, natural, one of a kind snap.

Maybe if we used less Instagram filters, took less time to get that 3/4 face, became less concerned about whether our photos are Facebook Like-worthy enough, we’d be able to capture the spirit of Polaroid in digital.

All this talk of Polaroid has got me thinking about that OutKast song~shake it, shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture~


“Blogging is a conversation, not a code.” – Mike Butcher ~Comments, queries, ideas, feel free to read and drop me a line~