In June of 2005 I posted a scan of that Polaroid to my Livejournal with the following text: “last night i discovered that if you leave polaroid film sitting around for three years, it sepia tones itself. rad. later, bouncers at a strip club told me that i look sixteen.” The strip club had been a misadventurous attempt to send a friend off to college in style; the camera was a long-neglected birthday present. There was just enough film left in it when I picked it up again to get me hooked on the medium: the squares, the click and whirr and wait for your image, the easy stylishness of the white border and blurry, saturated, unpredictable nature of the picture itself.
It was the perfect camera for an eighteen year old girl with a burning desire to get everything on record: it turns out that, unlike most cameras, people open up to Polaroids, so that you can avoid rictus grins, awkward grimaces, the circle forming to make sure nothing but flattering angles will eventually be posted to Facebook (this was before we had Facebook, but). For the next four years it was my constant companion, and I shot hundreds of images on the SLR680 my dad gave me to replace the crappy 80’s model I’d started out with.
I became so synonymous with that camera that when Polaroid announced that it was going out of business, sometime early my senior year of college, I had to hear about it for weeks. The 680 had started to die that summer anyway; I’d tried to replace it with a series of ebay’ed Spectras, each shittier than the last; actually replacing it would have cost a couple hundred dollars, and I was a little relieved that now I wouldn’t have to— goodbye to all of that, I figured. I’d just find a new camera to work with.
It’s been another three years since then, and I never really have. 35 millimeter SLRs, medium format twin lenses, Fuji Instaxx, various digital cameras, even a return to that first plastic Polaroid camera with Impossible Project film. The only thing I like shooting with half as much as the that old Polaroid is Instagram on my iPhone.
I really did not want this to be the case. There’s definitely something gross about Instagram, about the way it manipulates boring photos to look “interesting” by making them look old. But isn’t that what I was doing, a little bit, with those old cameras? What I loved about them was that they lent my lackluster images some credence, authority, literal weight. I framed the shot; they did the rest. I’m impatient and terrible with technicalities, and the Polaroid and I suited one another: I shot on the fly, and relished the way it glossed over my mistakes.
What I like about Instagram is actually less the filters than the feel of it: no one notices you waving a phone around, so you can shoot with the same ease as the Polaroid, and the image is so tiny and inconsequential that I can nab whatever little thing seems to be worth capturing. In this way Instagram is Polaroid’s polar opposite: the film was expensive to begin with, and a shame to waste, the camera cumbersome to carry. Our phone are everywhere, to take a picture costs nothing. Of course the images are almost always mundane.
But then what I love is the community of it: seeing K’s haircut in Berkeley, the notes in M’s New York office, S jumping out of planes in Louisiana. What all of my friends are seeing out of the corners of their eyes, capturing casually, sending on: I love being in the middle of it. I miss Polaroid, but I don’t hate this.