By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The iPod of her generation

The photographer Elsa Dorfman has a terrific column in today’s Boston Globe, pegged to the demise of Polaroid film, on the place that Polaroid instant cameras once held in our culture. She writes:

The Polaroid camera was my generation’s iPod, our BlackBerry, our GPS, our Kindle — that piece of technology that wows and then becomes an extension of the hand. And Dr. [Edwin] Land, always called Dr. although he didn’t have his PhD, was our Steve Jobs. He was a brilliant scientist who got Ansel Adams, Marie Cosindas, and Walker Evans to use his instant cameras with panache.

Check out Dorfman’s Web site.

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  1. Robin Edgar

    The Polaroid camera definitely was Elsa Dorfman's generation's, and mine. . . iPod in at least one sense. For one dollar, or thereabouts, you got one single photograph. ;-)I was never a big fan of Polaroid cameras due to the expense of shooting Polaroid film. For the price of a pack of ten smallish Polaroid instant prints I could get a roll of 36 exposure, processing included, Kodachrome or Fujichrome slides and display them 4 feet X 6 feet on a projector screen.Evidently the instantaneous screen display of digital cameras killed Polaroid film dead. It remains to be seen if digital will kill Kodachrome and Fujichrome and B&W cor color negative film dead. I am hoping, and even betting, that it will not. Film is still better than digital for some purposes and it is a lot quicker and easier to edit slides or prints than to deal with hundreds of thumbnail images on a computer screen. . . I would advise any amateur photographer who does not take a lot of photos in a month or year, and does not need the instant gratification of seeing their photos immediately after taking them, to stick with film.

  2. LFNeilson

    My father came home with his first Polaroid in 1953, and for decades ran the Town Crier with no other camera than a 180, which had a manual Zeiss-Ikon lens that could stop down to f90. (I know, lens quality is usually stated at the widest aperture.) The 3000 speed b&w film allowed him to work with no flash. Forty years later, the prints are still in excellent shape, though still out of focus.The cameras were relatively cheap. In reality, they were film-marketing devices, and you could get film for any camera they ever manufactured.My first really good look at Ansel Adams' 8×10 images was at the Polaroid Gallery in Cambridge. That's 8 feet by 10 feet.A great story about Land: He built a noise-activated system to silence his dogs. Some time later, he had a party with a large number of guests. When the party became loud, suddenly his loud stern voice came from the speakers. "Quiet!Scrapping Polaroid is one of the worst crimes of the century.

  3. Robin Edgar

    Crime of the century? Who is “scrapping” Polaroid? I thought it was a simple question of supply and demand. If not enough people are demanding Polaroid film, because digital photography has effectively supplanted it, who is Polaroid going to supply their film to? Of course it might be possible to increase public demand for Polaroid film and cameras with some appropriate marketing efforts, to say nothing of a price cut. . . but maybe Polaroid film has simply run its course. Is it a “crime” if “natural selection” makes a “species” of technology endangered or even extinct? If it is then the “criminals” are the people who stopped buying Polaroid film for whatever reason they chose to do so. It seems to me that there may still be a place for 3000 ISO speed medium format film, if not large format film, be it made by Polaroid or someone else, but the latest full frame DSLRs from Canon and Nikon now provide very high quality results at double that light sensitivity and even 4X and 8X 3000 ISO and they have very accurate interchangeable *autofocus* lenses with maximum openings as large as f/1.4 or slightly brighter. . . Can you say dinosaur?

  4. Robin Edgar

    I guess it helps to read the actual article before commenting on this blog post. The apparent “murder” of Polaroid by its latest owner Tom Petters may indeed be something of a “crime” but that does not change what I said. Polaroid failed to adapt to the evolution of digital photography, although it might have been able to if it had done things differently. Even though Polaroid clearly failed to evolve along with digital technology due to mismanagement I suppose that Tom Petters could be considered to be the ass*teroid who delivered the proverbial “coup de grace” to the Polaroid dinosaur.

  5. Bill Toscano

    I think it’s interesting that some of the film and camera companies embraced the digtial camera early on, and are profiting from that.Others did not and are paying the price.It’s tough those. It seems a no-brainer now, but you never know what’s going to fly and what’s not.

  6. NewsHound

    Part of the nostalgia of the winter New England Press Association convention in the 60s and 70s at the Sheraton in Boston was Larz Neilson of the Town Crier going into every conference and seminar and taking a Polaroid picture which was then published in the monthly bulletin.I don’t ever remember Larz winning a photo contest but his presence and unselfish devotion to the association is a fond memory, thanks to him and his Polaroid.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    NewsHound: OK, that’s it. You’ve got to tell us who you are! I should probably be able to guess, but I’m pretty dense.

  8. Patricia of Trakai

    Incidentially, digital has almost killed off Kodachrome. Kodachrome 64 seems to be the only version that’s being made, and there is only one lab on the planet — Dwayne’s Photo, somewhere in Kansas — that processes the stuff (the developing was always too complicated for home use).”Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away!” (Seriously, I have a half-used roll of Kodachrome film in my dad’s old Argus C3 camera. Maybe I should send it to Dwayne’s to find out what he was photographing before he switched to Instamatic in the 1970s.)

  9. Judy Meredith

    Thank you for the link to Dorfman’s wonderful website.

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