The interest in instant photography sparked when a colleague brought his vintage Polaroid camera to some of our company's social outings. It evoked a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of my youth. In a similar way, we already experience instant photography with our phones. Considering their myriad functions, one might question whether we should still refer to them as smartphones; however, that's a topic for another day. When we capture a photo with our "phone," we essentially have an instant photograph, or should I say; an instant image. Some may ask, what's the difference? I can effortlessly share my photos taken with my phone on social media and send copies to friends. Why carry an additional piece of equipment for something achievable with a device we already carry around? Stick around as we explore further.
I always found it intriguing to have a physical photo straight from the camera. The tangible aspect of the print appealed to me, signifying ownership of this tactile photograph (instant print). I wasn't reliant on phones or computers to view it; I could carry it anywhere. It's akin to printing photos at home and displaying them, but without the need for a printer or lab. Just bring this "unit" along, take the photos, print them on the spot, and have or give them away, all within a minute or so. That was a key distinction I discovered.
One day, my uncle called, mentioning he was about to discard some photo and video equipment he'd stored for years. Knowing his passion for photography, I agreed to take a look before he disposed of it. To my surprise, among the vintage equipment was the same model my colleague had been using. I thought it could be fun to shoot some instant photos, taking the camera without knowing if it worked.After initial testing and searching for specialty batteries, I was delighted to find that it was functional. Excited, I bought film to use at parties and outings, with no intention other than personal enjoyment. As I carried it, my artistically inclined work colleagues loved the experience, but surprisingly, strangers would often stop by to inquire about the camera. This led to interesting exchanges and making new acquaintances. Often at the expense of giving away a Polaroid photo or two.
I also discovered, there is a large community of instant photography enthusiasts. It appeals not only to working professionals but also to ordinary, everyday shutterbugs curious (just like me) about the workings of older items. One could liken it to a typewriter versus a computer. Having something tangible to hold seemed to appeal to more people than I originally thought. It marked the beginning of a renewed past, capturing many great moments enjoyed not only by me but also by those around me. It was the process of setting up, choosing the perfect lighting, and making the image “worthy” of the cost of printing that made the difference. The result was a testament to the effort and knowledge used to achieve it. Sometimes disappointing but mostly thrilling. The anticipation, waiting a minute or two, to see the results was indeed an important aspect of the process. However, this joy came to a halt when Fujifilm announced the discontinuation of manufacturing the easily and affordably available instant prints.
The disappointment was palpable among enthusiasts, and the news sent shockwaves throughout the instant photography community. It meant that all these working cameras would become obsolete, relegated to bookends, paperweights, and decorative purposes. Polaroid had sold the rights to Fujifilm many years ago, making them the exclusive manufacturer of the film. Still, I held high hopes, confident that someone or something could reverse Fujifilm’s decision in the coming months. Unfortunately, their decision was firm and final. Not only did they cease production, but they also refused to sell the procedure to the chemical process. It was an instant setback, to say the least.
The next few months saw me purchasing as much film as I could afford to sustain my hobby. However, the demand grew, and film stock became so scarce that the price became unaffordable. Sadly, it was no longer feasible to continue shooting with this setup. Or was it?
In the next article, we'll explore some alternatives and how the instant photography community persisted in finding substitutes for the craft.