Pilar on Polaroids
Twenty years ago or so, digital was a medium that was in its infancy, so the casual photographer's only option was film. (Long gone were the days of Victorian era film where you had to stand still for hours!) Film had reached its peak quality and user-friendliness. But even with Polaroids, you had to pay for the film and potentially the development, so there were certain acceptable times to take pictures, and certain times that were not. Now we have the best of both worlds. We can have instant digital pictures and thus take as many as we want and as discreetly as we want to. Taking a selfie or a picture of a sunset doesn’t require any fumbling or worrying about light, nor worrying about the expense. And yet! For those connoisseurs like me, film is still out there, albeit more expensive.
I cannot tell you how much I feel like a mom telling my friends to stop and get together for the picture while I figure out if the house symbol is going to have enough flash or if I have to point my phone flashlight at them too. And I have to wait a couple of minutes or so until I can tell them whether or not I want another picture. We’re dealing with millennials, and I’m as guilty as anyone. A couple minutes from a party can feel like a long disruption, especially if you can get an authentic moment on your phone and edit it to look right later.
But there’s something about Polaroids. There’s something about them that is inherently cool to me. Polaroids are the Snapchat of film: instant, fun, spontaneous. With a roll of film that I would send to get developed, I would try to plan out a photo shoot or a particular vision since I’m looking for an aesthetic that can be achieved on film since I’m paying for it. But with Polaroids, I’ll order film in bulk ahead of time and be set. I keep my Polaroid in my bag at all times, just in case. I mainly use it to take pictures of friends and the best times can be when we’re on a paddleboat in Prague, eating Waffle House at 2 a.m. after an unsuccessful house party, a pretty flower found on the ground sitting precariously in the lapels of a jacket. My Polaroid is small enough that I will have it at the ready for these moments, or even if I see something really beautiful in passing. There is a quality to them, a softness that misses some of the details of HD digital images and gives it an almost painterly look.
And after the awkwardness of gathering people, there’s my favorite and most anxiety-inducing part. Everyone waits and debates if Outkast was right in telling us to shake the Polaroid picture (it doesn’t matter). The secret formula does its thing and the picture appears slowly. The suspense of seeing it come out—then come out right—makes it a communal experience, the lost minutes preserved in a small frame.