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By Jim Heid | Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Romance of Polaroid Photography

Peeling a Polaroid photo

These days, the phrase “instant photography” is almost redundant. A photo appears on the screen of your camera (or phone) a moment after you shoot it. And in a lot of cases, the photo can appear on the Internet a moment or two after that.

But it wasn’t always this way. For decades, the phrase “instant photography” meant “Polaroid.” If you didn’t want to wait for film to be developed, you used Polaroid cameras and films, which enabled you hold a finished print in your hand within a minute or two after shooting.

Amateurs loved Polaroid for that very reason: no taking film to the corner drugstore and then waiting. Professional photographers used Polaroid to make test shots. And some, including Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, and William Wegman, used Polaroids to create enduring works of art.

Then the digital revolution happened, and Polaroid technology suddenly seemed like yesterday’s news. But a large number of Polaroid enthusiasts (including myself) snapped up boxes of discontinued Polaroid film from store shelves and stashed them in their refrigerators. A group of Polaroid lovers even secured rights to the company’s technology and a film factory in Holland and began making film again.

Today, analog instant photography enjoys a legion of passionate followers, and in this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long talks to one of them: fashion and portrait photographer Troy Word. They discuss the appeal of analog instant photography and examine several options for exploring it.

Why analog instant photography? One reason is that it slows you down: When you’re limited to eight shots from an expensive pack of film, you find yourself thinking about each photo more before you snap the shutter. Troy Word calls instant analog photography a “visual palette cleanse”; it imposes a discipline that more forgiving digital technologies do not.

Another reason, though, is the look. Instant analog photos have a unique, imperfect charm that many people love. “It’s like listening to music on an LP instead of a CD,” says Troy. And then there’s the gratification of holding a finished print in your hand right away—not something a digital camera can provide.

The final Polaroid

In this week’s installment, Ben and Troy share some details on where to get instant analog film and cameras. And they discuss the combination of digital and analog: scanning instant photos and then manipulating them in Photoshop.

I’ve loved instant analog photography for years; to see some of my shots, check out my Polaroid set on Flickr. And if you ever find yourself peering into my refrigerator, never mind all those film boxes on the third shelf.

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