Seven steps to heaven: The return of real Polaroid film?
I’ve not mentioned it because I wanted to be sure it was legitimate – but something wonderful is happening in the Netherlands. The hollowed out shell of Polaroid ended production of its traditional film products in June of last year. Harman Technology (Ilford) and others apparently tried to do a deal with them, but it was not to be.
After the dust has settled, it now has emerged that the same components and methods of making Polaroid’s ‘Integral’ film (ie the sort you don’t have to peel apart that consumers used) have been utterly unchanged since 1972. You just cannot get away with that kind of stagnation. Component availabilty and cost was cutting into margins at the end, though I am of the view that had Polaroid bothered to make some simple changes, they could have kept their magical, beloved product going and made it price competitive per print with digital. Before the announcement of the end of production affected prices, Polaroids were about £1.60 an exposure – much too much to compete. Those film packs are ridiculously complex, containing a battery, springs and all sorts. Most of it probably is unnecessary. Kodak’s legally stopped but innovative late 70s riff on it all (which lives on outside the US as Fuji Instax) is battery free, much simpler and much cheaper at 50p or less per shot. This shows that had Polaroid made some easy changes, the fate of its iconic product could have been different. The company sure was full of talent. In fact, its had to licence some back that it carelessly let go to make the interesting but poorly marketed Pogo instant digital cameras.
One of the geniuses behind the whole Lomography thing has gotten together with Harman and the cream of the crop of the old Polaroid operation to launch the ‘Impossible Project’. This gorgeous site has just been put up but invites user comment on the seven biggest challenges to making new kinds of film for the millions upon millions of inexpensive, lovely Polaroid cameras out there. The old factory and production line have been bought and saved, experts from Polaroid rehired. The same outfit seems to have got a hold of the remainder of Polaroid UK’s stock and have given the presentation of the same a brain transplant into a world of beauty and relevance. Harman’s been helping too, intelligently engaging with the photographic community via social media.
If all goes well, just as the last of the ‘real’ Polaroid stock is out of the channel, something wonderful will reemerge as a great example of how a brand community orphaned and ignored by its creator can take over and replace the original. I just hope that unlike ‘Lomography’, which was based originally on taking one of the worst cameras ever made, glamming up its context and selling it for 100x its worth, Impossible BV makes a competitively priced product. If Polaroid had done that well, it would still be the company it was today. I have been amazed to witness the suicide of one of the most iconic brands in the world – songs, art galleries and whole artistic subcultures have been based on Polaroid but it never seemed to notice or care.