Growing up, Polaroid cameras were something of the past. A token at every cool party in every cool 90’s movie, and those funny pictures you’d find online that had the white textured borders around them.
The smartphone was up and running and somewhat affordable, so everyone who was anyone had one. Gone were the days of lugging around digital cameras and filling up memory cards with cheesy group photos (ala Friends) and action shots of just about anything. You no longer had to fight your siblings for a chance to use the computer, only to spend hours uploading and editing and posting and tagging and haphazardly filing them away into ‘My Pictures’.
Now, our phones, hell, even our iPods, had convenient little cameras which meant documenting was a whole lot easier and “in the moment”. However, somewhere along the way, we became obsessed with said documentation. We all remember the phase when instagramming your lunch was actually a thing, and hashtags and emojis became their own language.
As the instant photography trend took off, the variety of editing apps not only tripled but became affordable (if they weren’t already free, that is). Suddenly, we were all amateur photographers, with all the tools we needed at our fingertips to create the perfectly contrasted snap. And of course, there was the magical benefit of taking multiple photos in one hit, for all of us who “didn’t like the angle of my face in that pic”.
Suddenly, capturing moments was no longer about capturing moments and freezing time – it revolved around good lighting and effortless cool poses (you know the ones I’m talking about) and getting the most likes. Sure, we were sharing our lives more than ever, but only the curated version – the only that took 28 shots to be deemed worthy of sharing.
In the midst of this chaos, in came the savior we all needed, but didn’t necessarily want, returned (think: Batman at the end of The Dark Knight). Slowly, these beautiful, vibrant pictures with the vaguely familiar white borders started popping up in my feeds. Sometimes the faces were too bright, or the scenery a little washed out, but man were they something.
I had already begun dabbling in film photography, but I was drawn to the Polaroid 300 instant camera for its user-friendly design and intriguing results. I adored how you couldn’t tell if a picture worked until after it was developed and until you’d used that precious piece of film. How film was not cheap, so it was important to cherish the photos you actually took.
At the beginning, I would get so disappointed if a Polaroid didn’t turn out. Even after doing everything right, sometimes they just wouldn’t develop how I imagined. But I made the rule to never throw a Polaroid out – even if the colours were distorted and the people next to unidentifiable. There was just something so dreamy about having that moment physically captured in my hands.
I used to have them arranged neatly on my bedroom wall, but soon the collection grew too vast for that, and I had to do something I’d dreaded from the start – hiding them away in an album. To me, photo albums were the photography equivalent of a rusty old filing cabinet, and my pictures were far too special to go in one of those! But, I reasoned, they would be protected and easier to transport and had a lesser chance of being chewed by a cat or small visitor.
After 4 years I’ve filled 6 and a half albums (not to mention the ones I’ve got on display/given away) which work out to be a little over 400 Polaroids in my possession. I’ve never counted it before, so wow, that really is a lot. Over 400 physical reminders of the past, all gathered neatly into books small enough to fit into my handbag.
I still can’t explain exactly why I’m so drawn to them, but it’s pretty cool that I’m still passionate about it after 4 years. I love teaching people how to use them (especially little kids) and continue to be stern with those who try to shake them or hold them face up whilst they’re developing (please don’t be that irresponsible!). I’ve seen a lot of people keep them in their wallets or on the fridge, and now that it’s become trendy again there is a whole range of official Instax accessories to complete your collection, so that’s neat.
As for me, I’m still pretty old school. I treat them like they’re special, because they are. I use my camera for all sorts of occasions and events, and sometimes for no other reason than to get a cute pic with James, and I always make sure there’s a spare film pack stashed for such times.
Polaroids will always remind me of fun and magical times, because it’s easy enough nowadays to whip out your phone and take a picture or video (hell, you don’t even have to unlock it anymore) but using the Polaroid, for me anyway, means it’s a time that I genuinely cherish and want to document.
Sure, it’s not the cheapest hobby, but it’s one that will connect you to a physical object, and one that you can look to as often as you’d like. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go with this post and of course, I could try and convince you to test one out, but chances are you already have. And if you have, well, you’ll know what I’m talking about.