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. . .thanks to Florian Kaps. From the Wall Street Journal. March 26, 2010 It's Baaaaack! But Polaroid Film Was Just Lucky By ERIC FELTEN In the past decade, Polaroid found its instant camera and film business eclipsed by the superior technology of digital photography, which delivered sharper images delay-free, electronically shareable and, best, without the cost of any film. The company faced this challenge by tumbling into bankruptcy and ultimately acquiring a new owner, Tom Petters, whose Madoffian business practices put him in jail and what was left of Polaroid in the toilet. Two years ago, the battered company announced it would stop making the film that had once been the core of its business. That might have been that. Technologies come and go, and who mourns the great steam engines in the sky? Actually, it turns out quite a few people do—especially those who prefer analog authenticity to the mathematical approximations of reality that define our whiz-bang digital age. But what could be done about Polaroid film's demise? Austrian entrepreneur Florian Kaps had solid evidence that there was still a market for old-school instant-camera technology. He built a thriving online business over the past several years acquiring and selling what was left of Polaroid film stock. Some of his customers were hobbyists with a sentimental attachment to the style of images that captured their own youth. Others were hooked on the strange, ethereal lull as the image seeps into existence before one's eyes. And plenty were artists, such as German photographer Stefanie Schneider, who have made Polaroids their medium of choice, valuing the film's otherworldly effects and quirky unpredictability. With customers in hand, Mr. Kaps pestered Polaroid, asking if he could buy the rights and the equipment to take over production of the film himself. The only response he got was an invitation to the ceremonial shuttering of the last functioning Polaroid film plant, a factory outside of Amsterdam. Once the plant was padlocked, chances of reviving the old Polaroid process would have been diminishingly small. Modern high-tech goods aren't like the buggy-whip, that icon of superannuated technologies on the receiving end of creative destruction. We could go centuries without a single buggy-whip being made; but if there were a new fad for buggies, it wouldn't take much in the way of reverse-engineering to figure out how to recreate the old leather horse prod. But many 20th-century products have been made through such elaborate and arcane manufacturing processes that, if the custom machinery and proprietary knowledge for working them are lost, there is no getting them back. And so Mr. Kaps went to the wake for the last Polaroid factory resigned to the film's demise. Under a tent outside the plant, he drank a beer with André Bosman, the factory's head engineer. Mr. Kaps lamented that the factory was going to be bulldozed for some new building; Mr. Bosman said that it was funny, but the tanking economy had scotched the new building project and the factory was going to sit empty. Ah, if only the machinery hadn't been destroyed, Mr. Kaps said, bitterly. Well, now that you mention it, Mr. Bosman replied, there had been delays. "To be precise," he said, "we start dismantling the machines tomorrow." For a moment, Mr. Kaps was exultant. Then he realized that many of the proprietary chemicals needed to run the machines could no longer be sourced, even if the machines could be rescued. But Mr. Bosman suggested that, with several months of experimentation, he and his fellow engineers might be able to devise a new formula for the film, one that could be created using readily available materials. (continued. . . .)
59 post(s)
(continued from previous post . . . ) Mr. Bosman succeeded in holding off the junk men for a week while Mr. Kaps went into a frenzy of friends-and-family fund raising. Money in hand, Mr. Kaps was able to make a deal to lease the factory, acquire the equipment and get to work (doing business under the rather grand title of "The Impossible Project"). Six months later Mr. Bosman and his team had solved the formulation problem and produced a sepia-tinted black-and-white film usable in the standard old Polaroid cameras. That film went on sale this week, and, and the company promises to have color film by the summer. Retro analog-instant film will put no dent in the digital juggernaut. Goodness knows it's hardly an essential good. But I'm always glad when the market increases our choices instead of narrowing them. There are plenty of vintage technologies that have their followings and can survive as niche products. Yet this will work only if they can ratchet down from a mass-market footing to the small scale of serving enthusiasts, and do it fast enough to prevent the knowledge and equipment for making the endangered product from being lost. There may be more such challenges ahead than we've imagined. Come the day when all new cars are electric and service stations have replaced their pumps with power sockets, where will the proud owner of a '64 Austin-Healey get any gasoline to keep his roadster on the road? Such is the pace of modern technology that products seem to go straight from brilliant innovation to Paleolithic relic. Just when I really get to rely on my iPhone, it's sure to become yet another electronic doorstop. But what if I like it so much that I don't want to give it up? I suspect that, as our gadgets and gizmos hasten toward the tar pits, we're going to need a few more stubborn contrarians like Florian Kaps. Write to me at
137 post(s)
Love it... Shake it like a Polaroid pictcha'!
180 post(s)
Fantastic news, Hugh, but even more exciting for me is the fact that you're BACK, man , at least in the Forum. We missed you, man, and now it's time to start uploading your new POLOROID series, ASAP! Welcome back, bro...