A Polaroid Land camera was, long ago, the quintessential way to celebrate. The Polaroid camera was the last word in technology and a device pretty much de rigueur for recording the joy at any life passage party and bringing people together. For many, those photos are the only recorded memory of family events with the power to toss you back to that cheerful moment in time.
The camera flash was over in a flash, while the pictures oozed out a slower joy culminating in a shiny finished photograph in your hand. With a Polaroid shot there was only one photo, so giving it away was a gift of active generosity. There was no blasting a digital photograph to an endless list of friends list with an effortless mouse-click. No sharing it, click again, with seemingly limitless globe-spanning social media. One photo. You kept it or you gave it away as a memento of a gathering. And, although the back was black, the edges were white and wide enough to scrawl a little love note and note the date for posterity.
Polaroid seemed like the end-all of possibilities in the area of instant gratification and techno-brilliance. It was in its own right a social event because it required not just you but someone who wanted to join in the mission of recording you. The isolation of selfies did not exist. The Polaroid has been replaced by swifter methods. “Instant” is a whole new world. We no longer have to count to anything, don’t have to do the wiggle-dance of shaking it like a Polaroid or peel the sheets carefully apart to find the gift of the age glimmering up at us. Those days may have gone the way of all technology and been consigned to some dustbin of industrial appliances past, but we can still hear the echo of that leisurely click and the small percolating whir that defined a Polaroid diligently at work
How quickly the new becomes primitive but, in a flash, what once was can become an art form all its own. The excitement of those long-ago photos remains thanks to Megan Jones, who is, among (many) other things, co-producer with Vanessa Lowe of Shake It-a Modern Polaroid Love Story, a one-hour radio documentary. To hear her talk about the place Polaroid holds in our collective history is a totally delightful walk down memory lane with a few twists that have something to teach about memories recycled and kept vibrant.
Some of the others involved in this effort are Christopher Bonanos, the author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid,” Dave Bias who created savepolaroid.com and is Vice President of The Impossible Project, a company that saved hundreds of thousands of vintage Polaroid cameras from extinction and Gus Van Sant, film director and Polaroid photographer. History, keeping memories alive that we may learn something from them, is a complicated business and in very good hands with Megan Jones and those who join her in this world of preserving what Polaroid still means.
Switching for a moment to the topic of found letters, closely related of course to found photos for the history they have to tell, it happens that Megan discovered a letter from Thomas Jefferson written to one of her ancestors while he was in office (yes, folks, that date of ’03 is 1803). I invite you to see not only this letter but to read Megan’s description of the discovery of it and how it took, when all was said and done, a back seat to a Chik-Fil-A and a Pepsi for lunch.
Find the old letters and old Polaroids in your life, if you have any, for the joy of taking another look at your relationship to your own past.
From me to you with love in the air,
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