A Love Letter to Polaroid

This entry is a guest post by Lou Noble, editor-in-chief of The Photographic Journal, and an active Flickr member for fifteen years.

Re-imagined Self Portrait, by Seth Moses Miller

When people say “the gear doesn’t matter,” I tend to agree. But then I think of the Polaroid camera I’ve been carrying around for the last 15 years, and have to stop short of agreeing completely.

With my Polaroid, an old Polaroid SLR 680 instant camera, I want to be close to my subjects, I want their faces to fill the frame. This camera lets me do that. It’s the right tool for the job. And when the job is creating a unique event, I’ve found no better tool than a Polaroid.

I consider what I do more than just taking a picture, if I may be so bold. A photo shoot, for me, is a shared, personal experience between subject and photographer. Using a Polaroid adds a specific kind of performance to the shoot. My subjects are more conscious of the camera, this strange thing in my hands that doesn’t look like anything else they’ve seen. They’re more aware of that sumptuous mechanical sound the camera makes every time a photo is ejected.

Watching the photo develop, those moments of anticipation, they add to the thrill. When my subject and I see the photo developed, when we see that we, together, have created a good photo, the mood is electric. There are smiles and laughs and always just a little bit of surprise.

It’s been minimized, in these days of digital, but having an actual tangible photo in your hands helps root that moment in the physical world, giving it a sense of “THIS HAPPENED” that digital doesn’t. As much as I love being able to take 100, 1000, 10,000 photos, it’s very difficult to feel the same quality of attachment to them. They’re just ones and zeroes, they aren’t something I touched, my subject touched, something I put in my pocket, protected from the sun. They can’t be handed over as a gift to a stranger whose style happened to catch your fancy as you were walking past a health food store.

There’s a person out there, in the world, with a photo of mine on their wall, or on their fridge. Remembering that brief moment our lives intersected.

Untitled

Every picture taken with a Polaroid is something brought into the physical world. A blank piece of light-sensitive paper transformed with the click of a button.

I once used it to take a picture of two Hassidic men in Manhattan who had stopped me on the street and asked to pray with me. As the photo ejected from the camera, I saw the most remarkable expressions appear on their faces (wish I’d gotten a picture of THAT), utter amazement at the world and its surprises.

That’s what Polaroid is, every time one of its cameras makes a picture. A bit of real magic in the world. That’s what I feel every time I take a shot with my Polaroid 680.

So, when it comes to picking your next camera, or your next piece of gear, think to yourself, “does this feel like magic in my hands? Does this feel like alchemy?”

If no, move on. If yes…oooooh, you’re in for a ride.

Julya, for Flickr

Visit the Polaroid Edge group and the Polaroid Addiction Monkey Group for more Polaroid inspiration.