Could we be witnessing the demise of digital photography? The appearance of a recent article in the Guardian gave me pause for reflection. It revolves around the resurrection of a thought to be obsolete practice of getting instant paper photographs to immediately peruse and enjoy. It raised the specter of people opting for this rather that expose their photos to the scrutiny and possibly abuse of the Internet.
Years ago in my other life in the financial industry, a client regaled me with an interesting, self-deprecating anecdote about his experience with a company called Polaroid. It was meant to be a cautionary tale prompting me to be wary, but that was lost on me: In the 60’s he made a bundle by investing in the stock- but totally by accident. He gave his stockbroker $10,000 to invest in a company- a handsome sum for the time. He instructed the broker to buy into a company called Polorad, if I recall, and the broker called him later to confirm the transaction.
Much to his chagrin, when he received the confirmation in the mail, he learned that the broker had mistakenly bought a stock named Polaroid, an understandable miscommunication but upsetting nonetheless. However, when he discovered more about Polaroid, he relented and accepted the transaction. Needless to say, he was rewarded for his decision as the popularity of their signature, handheld camera soared. I must admit- I wished my errors would work out as well.
A selfie taken with a Polaroid camera, unlike one taken with a smartphone, stays with the photographer. He or she doesn’t have to worry about privacy issues- you know what I mean. An intimate moment can be captured and appreciated by only a pair or two of eyes. Too many of us have experienced the ignominy of seeing our likeness, perhaps not in the most flattering pose, plastered on the web for the world to see. On the heels of the recent celebrity nude photo leak, Big Bang star Kaley Cuoco, said, “Polaroids are the way to go. No one can get those.”
This has produced an avalanche of sales for the camera that it has not seen for decades. The CEO of The Impossible Project, Creed O’Hanlon which took over manufacturing Polaroid’s in 2007,
“In the past 10 months we have seen a 75% increase in the 18-25 demographic, with teenagers turning their backs on digital for something more tangible. Over the past six months, we have doubled the volume of films we sell and refurbished more than 30,000 classic Polaroid cameras. Next year we expect those numbers to double.”
Young people are flocking to the old look. They are into nostalgia. O’Hanlon agreed,
“The classic square white frame is probably the most recognizable printed photographic format. A new generation of photographers are embracing it because-unlike digital photos- they’re distinctive, one-off, and tangible.”
Grammy award winning artist, Taylor Swift, would likely concur as her album, 1989, which featured Polaroid art prominently, sold 6 million copies in America alone. If the popularity of the camera reaches the height of usage in America of the 60’s, when half of all households owned one, then it will be a total reversal of fortune for the backers who stole it from the bankruptcy heap in 2001 at the start of the digital craze.
Because the Polaroid snapshot is so relatively costly, users are more discerning about picture-taking and more reverent. Digital photography is not by any means going away, but more and more people- surprisingly the younger generation- are enjoying the beauty of print photography. At the very least they won’t have to worry about their picture being beamed to millions or be the butt of cyber-bullying. That alone makes it all worth it.