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Instant nostalgia

Neither the nostalgia of longtime users nor the retro fetishes of newcomers could save Polaroid’s instant picture technology from joining VHS and eight-track tapes in the technological graveyard.

Polaroid ended production of its cameras over the last two years, and it recently announced that it will no longer make the film it launched 60 years ago. Inevitably, perhaps, instant film lost its mass appeal to instant digital images, and today, the company’s factories around the world are closing as Polaroid -- which started as an eyewear maker -- transforms itself into a brand of digital cameras and TV sets.

But unlike the dead technologies mentioned above, Polaroid will leave a legacy. As a unique medium, it has been a canvas for legendary artists long before Andre 3000 exhorted us to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” David Hockney compiled them into vast collages. Helmut Newton shot studies for his work, capturing his creative process. Robert Rauschenberg experimented with print coater to elicit deep sepia tones. Ansel Adams contained his vast landscapes in the Polaroid’s white frames, and he collaborated with company founder Edward Land to collect Polaroid art, an effort that formed the foundation of the company’s vast Polaroid Collection.

And amateurs everywhere enjoyed the magic of a Polaroid picture: its emergence from the robotic, bulky camera; shaking it in vain hopes of speeding the development; the slow appearance of an image through milky white.

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Reluctant to let go? There are still digital photo frames designed like Polaroid snaps, and a few kinds of instant Fujifilm that work in Polaroid cameras. And who knows? Another company may begin to produce film for the old cameras. Otherwise, Polaroids will remain, from the contents of dusty boxes in garages to well-preserved works like these, culled from the Polaroid Collection.

--Swati Pandey


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