Written by Emma Robinson.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
My vintage camera collection spans across different eras, types, and models. From the 35mm film variety to digital cameras, and most recently, I added an authentic Polaroid 600 Square from the 1980s. My Polaroid camera is the product of a four-year long search for first, a vintage Polaroid camera that works, and second, an accessible means to buy film. When I was a sophomore in high school, I finally stumbled across the perfect vintage Polaroid, only to find out that the film was far too expensive and far too rare. At this time, the Polaroid film existed in limited supply due to the fact that the company, Polaroid, stopped producing this sort of film. Therefore, it was a matter of finding old collectors who happened to have extra film that they were willing to sell. At that point, the idea of obtaining an authentic, functioning Polaroid seemed to be impossible.
This past winter break, however, my sister and I took a weekend trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We visited a gigantic antique store that had an entire section of vintage cameras. Each camera was labeled “working” or “non-working.” Out of sheer luck, I found an original Polaroid 600 Square Camera, with a small rectangular flash in the left-hand corner, slightly worn in from good use, and originally from the 1980s. I went to the owner of the antique store and asked him how hard it would be for me to find film for this camera. To my surprise, the man told me that he had some for $28 and he told me that I could also find the film on Amazon or at Target for an even cheaper price of $20. I was surprised to hear that Polaroid film has become accessible since I gave up my search for it four years ago. The man at the antique store told me how Polaroid has begun producing film again because of the rise in Generation Z’s interest in Polaroid cameras.
College-aged students have brought back the Polaroid camera. The idea of the Polaroid is so satisfying because in just one click someone can have a tangible, printed, documented version of any particular moment. The Polaroid provides a certain sense of nostalgia for Generation Z considering the idea that they were the last generation to have their baby and childhood photos on actual, printed photo paper. A Polaroid gives one the ability to physically hold a memory without the use of a screen or any other sort of technology. It is interesting to consider how society is moving back to a piece of technology, that is older than most of its users, and gives the user an authentic photograph that accurately captures any moment that cannot be edited; it freezes memories and allows one to see what was happening at a particular time.
Along with the static nature of the Polaroid, the photos connect people to the past when many people were content with raw, unfiltered moments. The use of Polaroid cameras is a step away from the contemporary trend of obsessively curating life through social media color coordination, saving Instagram stories, and Facebook albums for each particular semester. With the use of Polaroid cameras, our generation is making a conscious choice to go back to an outdated and less technologically advanced photo medium. With this shift towards the past, our generation is actively participating in the preservation of the history of photography. While Polaroids are often just considered a trend, our generations’ use of these devices allows a discontinued part of photographic history to be brought back into the present. Even though most Polaroid users aren’t professional photographers, the reemergence of the Polaroid camera is something to celebrate in terms of revitalizing the Polaroid industry and acknowledging the large technological progression that photography has made in the past forty years.
Polaroids bypass Generation Z’s inherent interest in photo editing apps and photo manipulation techniques for the sake of posting the perfect picture. Polaroids, therefore, represent the stark tension between appreciating the candid, natural appearance and our society’s interest in photo editing and perfecting a single image for social media posts. Polaroids encourage users to embrace their unfiltered self. They make people appreciate their unique qualities through each grainy pixel.
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