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The Power Of Polaroid - Reach Out And Touch The Past

(Photo by Slava)

I've been thinking recently about why I like Polaroid / Instax photographs so much, and why they're incredibly special. It's not the colours, it's not the sharpness (or lack of!) or the look. It's not the size or the feel. It's because they are part of the past - a moment captured in time, but unlike other types of photographs, the Polaroid was actually there.

This may seem a little weird, but stay with me a while on this one. This idea will probably appeal to those of you out there who like to "touch" the past. I'm talking about when you go to a historic building and you touch the brickwork, the doors and the furnishings. I'm talking about when you're going through old toys in the attic and you pick-up your old football cards or army dolls and feel a connection or memory back from your child-hood.

While on holiday recently we visited a Country House, and in one of the rooms was a chair that had been used at the Coronation of King George V. When the guide wasn't looking, I plonked myself down in it. You see I had to do it - to feel that touch with history. Another room in the house was the last bedroom that King Charles I had spent as a free man before his imprisonment and subsequent execution during the English Civil War. The idea that I was looking out of the exact same window that Charles had some 350 years ago thrilled me. 

"So what's this go to do with Instant Photography?" You say. 

"Everything" I reply.

Because you see, Polaroids (or Fuji Instax photographs) are unique because they are an artefact created at the time and place shown in the resulting image. Even more than that, the Instant Photograph will have been handled, at the time, by the photographer, and if there are people in the frame they probably will have looked at and handled the photo too.

No other photographic process is like this. Sure, negatives are of the time and place, but you don't get to see or handle them straight away. You could have a digital printer on location to create prints, but they're not unique. Only with the Polaroid can you really touch history.

If you've got any old Polaroids, go and get them now. Look at the people in the photos. This thing in your hand, was right there, at the instant the image was created. That person in the photo would have held, and looked at, the exact same photo that you're looking at now. Try and imagine what they would have been thinking and feeling. Powerful stuff.

So you see, to me, Polaroids and any Instant Photography is extra special. Not only does it record the past, it is the past.

Thanks, Rob.

What Do You Think?

Do you have a passion for Polaroid, or is digital the daddy-o? Is a soft Instax Mini instantly memorable or a business card-sized flop? Please share your thoughts below.

Reader Comments (4)

I'm a big fan of Polaroids. I think nothing can compare to the simplicity and look. Sure you can take digital photo and make it look kind of like a polaroid, but even the best software and photoshop actions wont give you a plasticy photo you can hold in your hand the moment you capture it as you said. I love analog and digital photography, but lets face it, it's alot of "work". A polaroid is done the second you push the shutter. There is nothing left to do, no developing, scanning, printing, color correction, no SD cards, No laptops, no photoshop. I love how it distills photography down to the act of taking the picture with nothing left to do.

Sure I like the look of them, but you're right that theres something special about it. I like instax too and even impossible project, but they just arent the same for some reason. Instax doesnt look and feel the same and impossible film is semi annoying to shoot since it needs to be shielded from light immediately and coddled at the perfect temperature until it has finished cooking.

I really hope Polaroid comes back in some form, or at the very least instax and impossible find success beyond the analog hipster fad we now have. In the mean time everyone who loves it needs to buy it so they keep making it.

Great post.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRandy B

Hi Randy,

You're right, if we don't keep shooting with it, we'll lose it forever. I haven't had the chance to photograph with Impossible Film yet, it's a bit expensive when compared to Instax or Instax Mini, but I will soon.
Many thanks for your comments and keep in touch!

Cheers, Rob.

October 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

One of the things that's gotten me excited about Polaroid lately has been the emergence of the Impossible Project

I've really been itchin' to get a hold of some of their reproduced Polaroid film to run through my SX-70 that's been sitting on my bookshelf forever.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDamien Franco

Hi Damien,

Yeah, me too, Impossible Silver Shade looks very nice.

Thanks, Rob.

October 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

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