The story of Polaroid is about celebrities, design, the internet, and great branding. Looking at its position now, it may seem made to thrive online. However, for a long time, many deemed Polaroid as a dead medium. So what happened?
Waiting for the Image to Appear
The first thing I ever bought on the internet, was a Polaroid 600 Round Instant camera for 25 euros and was imported from France. The medium has found a way to inspire me throughout my life, and it continues to be one of the biggest influences on my aesthetic.
The earliest memory I have of this, was before I was 10. I went to one of those art classes for children, held at the Groninger Museum. We got a tour through the space, and then went to a creative space to make something.
My most vivid memory of that day, was how it started. We all had our picture taken, by a Polaroid camera. This was amazing to me. I had seen these in movies, but I had this idea that they were from another time, that camera evolutions had made it obsolete.
But here it was. It took my picture, and I gotta flip it in my hand, before patiently waiting for the image to appear. I have no patience for anything, but I had patience for this. It was a moment I realized that I could creating anything. The only thing standing in the way, is me not doing it.
Polaroid has been iconic for decades. One of the things that attracted me to it, and made me think it was a possible direction for my work, were Andy Warhole’s photographs. Some of his work includes Polaroids of celebrities, made in his factory, and are hung in museums around the world.
One highlight I want to mention here is the exhibition Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids, is organized at the Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
It includes works by Warhol from between 1970 and 1987, approximately 250 Polaroids and 70 gelatin silver black-and-white prints.These were gifted by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in celebration of the foundation’s 20th anniversary.
Production of Instant Film and Cameras Discontinue
The Polaroid corporation was founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land. In the 90’s, when digital photography was incredibly popular, the company struggled to stay relevant.
This is when I enter art school, and am determined to include Polaroid photography in my portfolio, as a part of my aesthetics and brand.
At this moment I had owned my own instant camera for a few years, and was excited to get feedback from experts. However the feedback I received had less to do with my work, and questioned the future of the medium instead.
Despite my determination, in 2008 the Polaroid Corporation filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and announced its production of instant film and cameras would discontinue.
The brand attempted to reinvent itself, and teamed up with Lady Gaga between 2010 and 2014, when she was one of its creative directors.
The Impossible Project
This was a time when online shopping was still new, and especially some obscure items became an easier to find. But during this time it could be hard to find film.
My sources for film were eBay, and similar online market places. Eventually I found “The Impossible Project” (now named Polaroid Originals), and it changed everything.
Impossible Project was producing film from a factory in the Netherlands. Some film was more experimental. What really helped them was that they were early on adapting news letters and an online presence. Theirs must’ve been one the first newsletters I ever subscribed to.
In 2010 they were successful in manufacturing instant film. And as long as there were still old cameras, it could live on until someone would breath new life back into it.
In 2017 one of the Impossible Project’s shareholders acquired Polaroid’s brand and intellectual property. In March 2020 Impossible Project officially re-branded, and changed its name to Polaroid.
This was a full circle moment. It was also the beginning of something new. All the community building, developing production techniques, acquiring the marketing expertise, and nurturing an audience, had prepared this company to bring Polaroid to the age of the internet.
It’s an example of the potential of brands and companies to be on the internet. And is a showcase of companies not readjusting their strategies, and in some cases how companies don’t survive. And how rebirth and starting new is always an option. The world around us keeps evolving, and so can we.
When Impossible Project re-branded itself, it released a new website. The visual design of it is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Clean, bold, the photos are strong, and the pop of color is just right.
I think Instagram, in a way, has done something similar. People think in squares when they take photos for the platform. The use of avatars on forums and other social platforms, originally made it popular. And later it would also become a dominant dimension for user photos and icons in interface design.
Many people will disagree, not everyone is happy with the large amounts of squares in contemporary design. But I am excited by this. It is a confirmation there’s interest in it.
Visual design has long favored square photos, such as avatars, on Instagram and as user icons on website.
In the general public you can see people frequently consider how to space things in a square, rather than a landscape or portrait. And the overlap online photos have with Polaroid, is very visible on Pinterest, where many boards mix both Polaroid and Instagram inspiration.
Whilst not everyone is a fan, I’m inspired to see the mass adaptation. Read more about how this influenced my design.
Take a Minute
One of the things people remark to me about Polaroid, is that it’s too expensive to be worth it. It sure is, easily two Euros per photo. But it makes you reconsider what you photograph, makes you pause.
This pause is something I always appreciated about Polaroid. Digital cameras made it so easy to take multiple shots of something, and hope there’s one good one in the batch. It’s taken some of the intent out of the act of photography.
Everything goes so fast, we can all use a moment to slow down. In photography, you can take a minute to really live in the moment.