Polaroid is going full circle. Petapixel tells us that Polaroid is being Acquired by The Impossible Project’s Largest Shareholder.
To put this into context, The Impossible Project is the company that was founded to produce Polaroid compatible instant film after it was end-of-life. It was a hard task as they needed to reinvent it, and to that effect bought from Polaroid their last factory in the Netherland. On the other hand Polaroid, the company that was synonymous of instant photography, went bankrupt and ended up being just a brand selling electronics. It is only recently that the owner of the Polaroid brand started to sell Polaroid branded instant film products, dubbed Polaroid 300, based on Fujifilm Instax Mini 7.
The bigger irony is that the Fujifilm instant film technology was only allowed to exist with licensing agreement from the original Polaroid after Kodak lost big in a lawsuit.
To summarize the history:
– Polaroid invent instant film.
– Kodak develop instant film and get taken down by Polaroid.
– Fujifilm, in light of this, settled with Polaroid.
– Polaroid goes bankrupt.
– Polaroid stops instant film.
– Impossible Project starts from the ashes of Polaroid technologies and manufacturing to manufacture and sell film for Polaroid 600 and Polaroid SX70 cameras.
– Fujifilm Instax thrives.
– Polaroid is just a brand, that changed hands more than once, used to sell many things.
– Polaroid sells rebranded Fujifilm Instax Mini 7 as Polaroid 300.
– Impossible Project release their first instant camera the Impossible Project I-1.
– The Smolokowski family, who purchased a large stake of Impossible Project, is now buying the Polaroid brand.
Now, while one can’t speculate of what will happen, it seems that Polaroid has now come full circle. I do believe that leveraging the brand and distribution network for Impossible Project would make sense to expand the instant photography business.
If you are interested in the story of Polaroid, I can’t recommend enough Christopher Bonanos’ book Instant: The Story of Polaroid.
Christopher Bonanos write for the Washington Post: What Kodak could still learn from Polaroid. He goes on to explain the mistakes of Polaroid and what Kodak should learn from that to survive and keep film coming. The key argument is right here:
Yes, the remaining buyers of film are weighing this technology against digital methods of image-making. But they’re not choosing film for reasons of economy; it could never compete. They are choosing it for a particular look and feel, and because they want to differentiate themselves. Some are old-school professionals who prefer to work in familiar ways.
Bonanos is the author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid that I recommend.
NPR has a piece titled How Much Longer Can Photographic Film Hold On?:
At the turn of the 21st century, American shutterbugs were buying close to a billion rolls of film per year. This year, they might buy a mere 20 million, plus 31 million single-use cameras — the beach-resort staple vacationers turn to in a pinch, according to the Photo Marketing Association
Basically, film is not dead, but it is far beyond in term of market. The biggest risk for film is not that big companies stop producing it but rather that they hoard the technology to make it. Agfa Scala was the first example, albeit salvaged by the makers of DR5, still repeating the mistake. Polaroid is the second example, and the Impossible Project did the impossible with it. Kodachrome is the third and hardest example: a very complicated and undocumented process without any alternative. I believe slide film E-6 will be next. Time will tell.
Technologizer relate the story of the Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible:
Most important, unlike any other Polaroid, the SX-70 asked the photographer to do nothing more than focus, press the shutter, and pluck the snapshot as it emerged from the camera–and then watch it develop in daylight. It was the first camera to realize what Edwin Land said had been his dream all along: “absolute one-step photography.”
This was in 1972 and it was a landmark towards the true instant photography. Long before digital.