Bank-Breaking Polaroid Film? Still Worth it.
By Amy Schatz
During a recent trip home, I uncovered my Polaroid camera — a treasure which I had apparently relegated to a hidden corner of my childhood bedroom for several years. I brought it back to the city with me with the hazy idea in mind of wallpapering my room with snapshots of friends and family.
Once I got on the subway with the camera, I remembered: This thing is a nightmare. Hefty, hard to carry, and a little bit like a basketball-sized minivan, the Polaroid One600 Ultra is arguably one of the world’s least-sought-after instant film cameras still in circulation, thanks to its unwieldy shape, obsolete film packs, and complete lack of any advanced settings. It is a camera which lacks all discretion and it demands to be seen and heard while in use.
So I ordered a pack of black-and-white Polaroid film with 2-day shipping, a purchase which amounted to $20 for eight photographs. (Admittedly, it’s a little hard to reconcile $2.50 for a flimsy slip of plastic that isn’t even guaranteed to produce an identifiable image.)
I popped the cartridge in and jumped in surprise as the decade-old camera shuddered, whirred to life, clanked internally, and spat out a test panel. Blessed machinery.
My roommate, pants-less with a spatula, was cooking in the kitchen; I raised the camera and clicked, and we sat and giggled as the spotty Polaroid bloomed within the frame. We waited five whole minutes for the image to resolve itself so we could inspect it for accuracy.
It was the worst picture I have ever taken and it felt like a dream.
Creating instant film is one of the sweetest and purest forms of homemade magic. It’s a humbling experience that requires you to shoot and fail, repeatedly and aesthetically. It is an excruciating exercise in imperfection, and a gentle reminder (to me, at least) that some skills just can’t be mastered, no matter how much time you spend trying to squeeze everything into frame.
I’ve got nothing against the line of Fujifilm Instax cameras that are out now — you can use them without feeling as though you are holding a sleeping tortoise against your face, and they make great pictures.
But I can’t be so quick to dismiss my homely minivan camera, either, environmentally unsustainable and financially inefficient as it may be. Something about this clunky and precarious machine brings me the kind of joy you can’t find in streaming services, or from pounding bottomless margaritas, or sub-tweeting on a Thursday night. It’s way simpler than Tinder, anyway.
It doesn’t matter if my picture only has a marginal chance of becoming the image I intended to make, and I don’t care if the camera model is so outdated it might be considered hazardous waste at this point. I’m not ashamed. No, I won’t win any awards with film that dribbles and pools when I jostle it too much. I don’t want my peers’ approval for the photographs my Polaroid disjointedly, but loyally, ejects.
I just want to play.