The Draw of Instant Film

Recently, I was shopping at a local resale shop, browsing the store for any items that struck my curiosity.  Although I had a few things in mind, I was looking for one thing in particular: a Polaroid camera.  After finding one in my parents’ basement—a Polaroid JobPro—and rediscovering how much fun they can be, I got the instant-film bug.  A few days later, there I was on the hunt, and after 20 minutes of looking, I found not one, but two Polaroid OneStep instant cameras.  Although it sounds ridiculous, my heart started racing as I inspected the cameras.  I loaded them with film cartridges and they flashed to life as the dark slide came spitting out.  After probably 10 years of sitting in a dark closet somewhere, these cameras were back.

I immediately thought about what brought these cameras here.  They had been brand new at one point. I wondered how many birthday parties or family gatherings they had documented. All of those instant photos are sitting in a box or photo album somewhere. And now, almost 10 years after the Polaroid company stopped producing its instant film, the cameras had come to rest on the floor of a resale shop selling for 6 bucks a pop.

I realized that finding the Polaroid cameras had somewhat rekindled my love for photography. One of the reasons is because they’re easy to use; just look through the camera, press the button, and an instant photo pops out with that classic Polaroid frame around it.

I think what makes them so special is that they’re not as disposable as images you may take on a digital camera; if I take an image on a digital camera and don’t like it…delete. For this reason, every image I take with a Polaroid has to count.  I’ve come to use my Polaroids for special moments, when I know I’ll want to have that photo forever.  Sure, I could use a digital camera and print the images, but I’d have to sort through the hundreds of images on my memory card and pick the one I want to print.  In a way, that whole process loses the authenticity of making an image.  I like knowing that when I use my Polaroid, everything is happening organically. Looking at that raw image later on brings me back closer to that exact moment.

I recently took my Polaroid SX-70 camera on our vacation to Key West and the whole time I carried that camera around documenting our stops and the scenic views. It’s almost like the light and textures of the view were all being sucked into the camera and were trapped in the photo. I had this feeling that not only was I documenting our trip, but I was documenting a moment in time, instantly onto film—something that will probably be on this planet long after I am.

Of course, old habits die hard and I also took photos with my digital camera. However, I didn’t look at those images until at least a week after I arrived home and loaded them onto my computer.

Having the Polaroids to hold in my hand brings me right back to Miami, Key West, and Key Largo. I have a feeling that our most recent vacation is only the first trip of many during which I’ll be toting around a Polaroid.

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