What happens when the much-loved Polaroid camera and film is revived by a group of former employees
Ironically enough, the founder of Polaroid, Edwin H Land, once said that a project shouldn’t be undertaken unless really impossible, but little did he know that 60 years later in 2008, Polaroid Corp would sell out and go digital, despite a sustained and constant demand for the instant camera. Four years later, at the height of the popularity of Lomography and the iPhone’s instagram application, further demonstrating a high demand for Polaroid photography, a group of former Polaroid employees have been working at turning back the digital era by resurrecting the old instant film and camera in Enschede, Netherlands.
The first Polaroid camera was sold in 1948 and dominated the instant photograph market for the next 60 years. Its success however, came to an abrupt end when the final Polaroid factory shut down in 2008. This was partly due to the company running out of a key chemical used in making the film but as a move to digital was planned for the company, it decided not to continue production and closed down.
This radical move created a huge uproar among fans and photographers worldwide – while the Polaroid was part of everyday life – used for test shots in the fashion industry, capturing moments between friends, the machine – like the VHS and Walkman it was doomed to become consigned to past, despite healthy sales amounting to almost one billion cameras.
But what most people didn’t know, was that while die-hard fans of the analogue (where the image is recorded on film) instant camera revelled in the pleasure of using the last SX-70 films available, two former Polaroid employees put their heads together and saved the last Polaroid factory in the Netherlands from closure with the intention of re-launching the much-loved Polaroid film and camera. Together with a 10-strong team of experienced former employees, Austrian artist and entrepreneur Florian Kaps and factory manager André Bosman, they negotiated the tightrope across the rapidly changing landscape of photography and The Impossible Project was born.
The Impossible team has kept nine of the original 17 assembly lines going but, due to the closure of Polaroid factories where certain composites were made, the team had to come up with a new film concept that could be made onsite. The result is close to the original iconic SX-70 film, but there are slight variations that matter to a select few. Working together with the Manchester-based black and white photography company, Ilford, film of two exposure types, each compatible with both the classic SX-70 cameras as well as the more modern 600 series, are being produced. In developing a new range of film, Impossible has prevented over three million Polaroid cameras from becoming obsolete. Today, a new range of black and white, colour and silver shade films are available and priced at about £15 per 10-shot tapes.
The objective of the project is to produce 10 million rolls a year (Polaroid used to produce over 120 million every year) and with stores and exhibitions taking place across the world, the project is well on track, and not just where sales are concerned. As per Kaps’ goal, the project is indeed “… more than a business plan, but it’s a fight against the idea that everything has to die when it doesn't create turnover” as he told the New York Times.
Much to nostalgic fans’ relief – and despite the prevalence of digital photography – the Polaroid looks set to stay very much in the present. Now with 25 employees and four shops in New York, Tokyo, Vienna and the most recent addition in Paris, the project launches formally in Europe with an exhibition of works by photographers, Ruvan Wijesooriya and Kasia Bobula, at the design-oriented lifestyle store, Aria, in Islington, London.
by Rooksana Hossenally
The Impossible Project exhibition will run in London at Aria’s Barnbury Hall until June 15, during which reconditioned stock of original Polaroid cameras and the new range of film will be available to buy.