Smile, everyone: Polaroid employees bring back the instant camera

The eight-track tape never got a second chance. But things are looking up for instant film, which last year seemed destined to follow the sound-recording technology into the history books. A Polaroid licensee, the Summit Global Group, said Tuesday it would be re-launching Polaroid brand instant cameras. That proves The Impossible Project (that group of Polaroid employees who leased the Polaroid factory and purchased the company's equipment in the Netherlands) is now entirely achievable.

The licensee did not give a time frame for the relaunch. But The Impossible Project still says it is being commissioned to develop and launch a limited edition of Polaroid-branded film in mid-2010. "Large-scale production and worldwide sale of The Impossible Project's new integral film materials under its own brand will already start in the beginning of 2010 -- with a brand new and astonishing black and white Instant Film and the first color films to follow in the course of the year," says the press release.
I was one of many film nuts who saw Polaroid's mistake in the time it takes to develop one of the company's iconic photographs. Shutting down the instant film and camera business in February 2008 may have been pictured -- by the consultants and brand strategists -- as a graceful acquiescence to the inevitable annihilation of film by digital imaging.

But the tangible magic of film -- and most especially the not-quite-instantaneous revelation of an image from dark rectangles of photographic paper -- had an unusual meaning for many Polaroid aficionados. Polaroid lovers couldn't let go, scouring eBay (EBAY) for old film and stockpiling all that could be found. In an extraordinary move, some of them went so far as to purchase the assets of Polaroid's film production and pool their money to develop an entirely new, Polaroid-compatible instant film.

The story is a tale of victory for the power of consumer desire; in this case, fanatic and devoted artists and regular people who couldn't let the dream die. Between 1972, when Polaroid first began producing its instant cameras commercially, and 2000, when the company went through bankruptcy proceedings, 13 million instant cameras were sold. Many of them were celebrated, not just for their unusually gratifying functionality, but for their iconic design.

Artists and photographers loved the film for its ethereal look and cloudy, mystical color. Its quick output added to its appeal. Some photographers work mostly in Polaroid even today, stubborn holdouts against the modern pixelation of the art. Thanks to thousands of Polaroid fans who buy old Polaroid film off of eBay and post their work to or weekly flickr groups -- and to modern digital developments like the Polaroidonizer -- demand hasn't gone away.

In a month in which Gourmet magazine was closed to much subscriber outcry, Polaroid's comeback represents a rare victory for actual customers who didn't want to see a beloved product sent to the graveyard of iconic objects. You wanted Polaroid instant cameras and film back: and you got it.
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