Artists Lament Polaroid's Latest Development Many of us have moved on to digital photography, but fans of Polaroid photos are mourning what they see as the end of an era. Polaroid, which no longer makes instant cameras, announced it would also stop manufacturing the film.
NPR logo

Artists Lament Polaroid's Latest Development

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Artists Lament Polaroid's Latest Development

Artists Lament Polaroid's Latest Development

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Time is not kind to consumer electronics. The trash pile of has-beens is always getting new additions - big-tube TVs, fax machines, those bulky, electric can openers. And now, say goodbye to this.

(Soundbite of TV ad):

Unidentified Man: This is Polaroid's new Sun Camera, a whole new system with the fastest color print film made 600 speed. But it needs…

BLOCK: Polaroid has stopped making instant-film cameras and the company is about to close its factories that make the film.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Before iPods and BlackBerrys and those little elf digital cameras, it used to be - if you wanted to be cool in a high-tech sort of way -you whipped out one of these.

(Soundbite of camera snapping a photo)

ARNOLD: In the 1960s, film that developed before your eyes was trippy. And in the age of free love, where would you be without your Polaroid Swinger?

(Soundbite of Polaroid Swinger ad)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) …the Swinger, Polaroid Swinger.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Swinger. It's more than a camera. It's almost alive(ph). It's only $19.95.

Unidentified Man: Swing it out.

Unidentified Woman: Swing it.

Ms. ELSA DORFMAN (Portrait Photographer): This camera really took off because it was an instant film. It was amazing and the technology was amazing and the chemistry was amazing.

ARNOLD: That's Elsa Dorfman, a 70-year-old photographer who's worked exclusively with Polaroid instant film for decades. Some Polaroid film is huge. Two feet wide. Dorfman's done those kinds of large-format Polaroid portraits of Allen Ginsberg and other famous writers. She loves the film.

Ms. DORFMAN: It can't be replicated digitally, at least I don't think so. It is so creamy and so wonderful and so marvelous. And every picture is different.

ARNOLD: Polaroid was founded in the Boston area by the inventor Edwin Land. Dorfman remembers in the '60s it was like the Google or Apple computer of its day.

Ms. DORFMAN: He had aggregated all of these really smart MIT people who all worked for the company. And it was sort of like an ideal kind of a thing.

ARNOLD: But Polaroid didn't change with the times. The company didn't adapt well to the world of video and then digital cameras. In 2001, it declared bankruptcy and is now a shadow of its former self. The company is still trying to survive. Scott Hardy, is an executive vice president with Polaroid. He says the company is getting out of instant film to focus on products like a portable digital photo printer.

Mr. SCOTT HARDY (Executive Vice President, Polaroid): Our goal is to bring the magic of instant pictures into the digital age and help ensure that the company's legacy lives on for another 70 years in the digital age.

ARNOLD: A fair number of people still use the instant film, though. Dermatologists snap pictures of patients' moles to watch them over time. One researcher uses the film to take X-rays of ancient mummies inside tombs. And some famous artists still use it.

Mr. CHUCK CLOSE (American Photorealist Painter): It's very discouraging.

ARNOLD: Chuck Close is an American painter who derives his works from photographs. His towering, sometimes ten-foot-tall, portraits are in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and major museums around the world.

Mr. CLOSE: Well, I have probably 2,000 Polaroids I have taken myself. Every one of my paintings, since almost the very beginning, every painting I've made, every print I've made, every - everything has been made from a Polaroid photo. And I don't know what the hell I'm going to do.

ARNOLD: Close, like many artists, likes the incredible detail you get from the huge, large-format film. And you see that final large image just minutes after you take the shot.

Ms. DORFMAN: So, see here's the negative. And you can see how jerry-rigged this is - the negative. This is…

ARNOLD: In her studio in Cambridge, Elsa Dorfman is standing next to a camera that's taller than she is. It's a rare custom model built by Polaroid machinists out of wood, old gears, even a bicycle chain. The film is 24-by-20 inches and costs $100 every time she snaps a photo. Dorfman says she's never worked in digital, and she doesn't want to.

Ms. DORFMAN: For me, this is very emotional. I'm not ready to do that. I'm not sure I could learn to be good. It's not like point and shoot.

ARNOLD: With the digital, you could take 50 pictures until you get a good one.

Ms. DORFMAN: But see, that's the thing. That's the seduction of the digital camera. But I think it's kind of like a fallacy. The person is more on if they know they only have a few shots.

Mr. CLOSE: I think of it as almost like an endangered species. You know, once it's gone, the whole ecology changes.

ARNOLD: Chuck Close.

Mr. CLOSE: What young artists, what young photographers coming along will never get the opportunity that I've had to use this really incredible medium. They will never know what it was like.

ARNOLD: Close and others still have some hope Polaroid is interested in licensing its film technology. Fujifilm already has been making instant film for a few professional Polaroid cameras, but not for most Polaroids. So far, though, Polaroid has not struck a deal to let another company make the film to keep those cameras alive and swinging.

(Soundbite of Polaroid Swinger ad)

Unidentified Man: (singing) Swing it out.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Swing it.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) It's a gist(ph).

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Swing it.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Take the shot.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Click it.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Count it down.

Unidentified Women: (Singing) Click it.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Lift it off.

ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.

BLOCK: Polaroid's instant film may be going away, but as we just heard, its fans remain. You can see one treasured collection of Polaroids at

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.