What I'm Reading: Polaroids---Shaken, Not Stirred

I KNOW! Contrary to the words of Andre 3000, Polaroid pictures are not meant to be shaken BUT I had to start with a pun. You'll get over it.


My first, and only, memory of receiving a Polaroid image occurred when I was in elementary school. One fine weekend in California's Inland Empire, my school (Oak Park Elementary) decided to through a field day for students and their parents. Activities included tether-ball, face painting, teacher dunking, and an educational station where the local police department displayed all the illegal firearms and contraband they had confiscated over the past year. Amidst this chaos was a school historian wielding a Polaroid camera. I was fortunate enough to have my picture taken---I was handed a sheet of film with grey box in the middle which eventually gave way to a low-contrast image of me, with the rest of my family. Given I still remember this moment today, it must have left an impression. As for the picture, it's been lost with time.


To be honest, I've never been a fan of the image quality/look of Polaroid pictures. It's just not for me. The image always leaves me wanting more---color, sharpness, etc. Maybe it's these imperfections which have captured the hearts of the Polaroid faithful.


The technology behind the image however, is a different story---to say it is "neat" would be an understatement.


Polaroid's technology was perfected by Edwin Land (left)---building off research performed by British chemist and surgeon William Herapath (right) almost half a century prior.

The technology (below) contained both the negative film and a positive receiving sheet joined by a reservoir holding a small amount of chemical reagents which started and stopped film development to produce an "instant" image.

Even more interesting than the technology is the story which pushed its development---In 1943 Edwin Land took his daughter on vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico. During this trip, he took several pictures of his daughter---after each one, she would inquire as to why she could not see the image immediately. After explaining the development process to his three year old daughter (not sure how much of this she processed), Land got to thinking: Maybe there was a way to create instant photography. Less than a decade later, he had found the answer.


For many, Land's success, was not a surprise. As a child, while other kids were obsessed with bikes and action figures, Land was obsessed with light. In his own words, he was "drawn to the natural phenomenon of light polarization." For comparison, as a child I was obsessed with collecting bugs and putting them in a wired mesh "house." It only made sense that Land's genius, which was displayed at a young age, would propel him to greatness later in life. The only question was how he would turn his affinity for light into something special.

Over time, Polaroid has seen ups and downs, however In recent years, the company has seen a revival---they still make their cameras and film but have expanded their portfolio to printers, accessories, and even apparel (not sure how I feel about this). Regardless of my feelings, or yours, what's important is that Polaroid continues to offer a unique, easy to use (albeit expensive) medium from which humans can continue to create and save memories.

Washington, D.C., USA 

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©2019 by Taylor Mackay