October 25, 2008

You can add this to the List Of Ways I Can Tell I'm Old: I had no idea the kids were hot for Polaroid cameras these days.

Polaroid's teenage acolytes so love the clunky cameras, which went out of production a few years ago, that they scour junk shops and Web sites to snag one. And since the Concord, Mass.-based company announced in February that it would stop manufacturing instant film, fans are hoarding cartridges in refrigerators and closets or stacking it atop already cluttered bureaus.


For the younger generations, Polaroids add old-school charm to a PhotoShopped, digitally mastered age. The cameras' vintage look and slightly off-kilter color reels them in, but the near-instant gratification -- point, click, wait two minutes -- and the hold-in-your-hand payoff is what compels their hobby.

"It's so much better to hold a picture in your hand than to see it on a computer screen," Polaroid enthusiast Zoe Kanan said.

"I like the instantaneous thing you get from Polaroids," added Gabriella Flournoy, who says at least 90 percent of her friends are addicted to their Polaroid cameras.

For these teens, the uncertainty of how the photo will turn out only adds to the Polaroid experience.

"When you take a Polaroid, you totally go on impulse," Kanan said.

I suppose the reverse of that is why I love my digital camera, because I've taken too many crappy pictures in my day, and the sooner I realize it, the better off I am. More evidence of my decrepitude, clearly.

On the social-networking site Facebook, more than 31,000 people belong to the group "Save the Polaroids." One of them is Kanan.

When designer and photographer Dave Bias learned of the film's impending demise, he decided he wasn't letting go without a fight. Shortly after the company's February announcement, he co-founded SavePolaroid.com.

"We thought we needed to take a stand on this if nothing else," Bias, based in New York City, said of the effort.

"That way, the world would see that not only is Polaroid film viable, but there's a market for it."

The Web site lets grieving fans download "action packets" that include ready-to-mail letters imploring Polaroid to reconsider its decision and do-it-yourself stencils to help spread the word. Bias said the campaign has attracted a couple of thousand responses.

With tens of thousands of fans rallying in Europe and Asia, Bias hopes that the enthusiasm and outrage lead to a revival of Polaroid film.

"It's the film everyone knows," he said emphatically. "The Polaroid print has value. It has worth. It is real."

You'd think someone, if not Polaroid, would want to try to capitalize on this market. Maybe no one thinks the fad will last, or maybe the manufacturing costs are too high to generate enough of a margin, I don't know. But you'd think with a ready-made market like this, someone would want to give it a go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 25, 2008 to Society and cultcha
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