The life and death and life of Polaroid pictures

Polaroids, those instant-developing images that we all came to love, seem like they would have become quaint in the digital age. Still the saga of Polaroid’s “images in an instant,” having gone through many incarnations over the years, continues. In fact, I just started using the first Polaroid product I have owned in a long time.

There are many places you can read about the history of the Polaroid Corporation and its founder Edward Land. This post is not about that, nor is it about the fact that they have filed for bankruptcy, twice. The post is about the role Polaroid plays in the lives of photographers like me.

First the bad news: In February of 2008 the company decided to cease all production of their existing instant imaging products. This left a hole in the market that no manufacturer has yet to fill. Art photographers who manipulated the instant images as well as certain commercial photographers and many hobbyists were all left empty-handed.

The end of production spurred a group of businessmen (or dreamers depending on their luck) to attempt to re-invent and re-start production of certain analog films for some vintage Polaroid cameras. To read more about their effort (and support it) start at:

A couple other sites on the topic of Polaroids include: This site says it “will document the aftermath of (the end of production) and will serve as a home-base for the effort to convince another company to begin producing the cherished technology that Polaroid has so carelessly abandoned. This site is not about saving Polaroid, the company, rather the remarkable invention of Edwin Land, the instant film that made Polaroid a household name.” This site says “We are building the biggest Polaroid-picture-collection of the planet to celebrate the magic of instant photography.”

Now, the good news: Polaroid has finally produced a product that I have wanted for years! When I photograph people on location, whether in India, Guatemala or here at home, I want to be able to give them a print back, as a way of saying “thank you.” Frankly, giving a person you have photographed a picture is basic courtesy, and everyone should do that, period. It has not always been easy to do that though.

I have experimented with many strategies over the years, in order to do this. Sometimes I would take my slides/negatives/files to a mini-lab and then return to the place where I did the photography, hoping to give the subjects their pictures. Other times I would get a business card from a shop in the area where I was photographing and then mail the images to that business. I would ask the owners to give the images to the people working in the area that I had photographed. In the case of India, I would often photograph at a given place one trip and then return to the same place, months later on another trip, with prints in hand and give them out as best I could. Each strategy had its limitations, but all were all better than doing nothing.

What I have long wanted was a printer I could wear on my belt. I wanted to be able to sit and have coffee after a shoot and plug my camera (or flash cards) into a printer that would produce images on the spot. I have followed as various printers have become smaller and smaller but none fit the bill, until now.

Polaroid recently started selling an 8-ounce photo printer slightly bigger than a deck of cards that requires no ink. It prints business card-sized pictures using thermal printing technology. You plug it right into your camera and print away. It is called the Polaroid pogo.

When I saw it I charged right out and bought one. I have been playing with it for a bit and I am very excited. It has some limitations. First, the pictures are smallish. Second, the print quality is not brilliant. Third, it prints from the JPGs in your camera. So if you are a RAW shooter like me, you need to set your camera to produce both RAWs and JPGs. Having said that, I am never one to let the perfect get in the way of the good. I look forward to using it ion coming trips to Mexico, Arizona and Guatemala.

One thing I did learn as I used it: The process is pretty straightforward when it comes to making the prints but it is not that fast. I intend to take the pictures, show the subjects what they look like on the back of the camera, then retire some place quiet for a break. During the break I will set the battery powered printer out, plug it into my camera select a few images to print, make those prints, then return to where I was photographing and give the prints out.

I suggest a strategy like this because at one point I used to carry a real Polaroid camera for just this purpose. As soon as the subjects saw the pictures were instantaneous, the pressure was on me to make their photo, on the spot. In no time, I was out of film with a large crowd gathered around anticipating their picture was about to be made. Disappointing large gathering crowds was never much fun. If I print in private, I can mange my limited resources and give something back to the few folks who gave me something by letting me photograph them. A better deal all the way around.

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