the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

Intellectual Property

EVERYTHING OLD IS….OLD AGAIN

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

ONE OF THE LOWHANGINGFRUITEASYLAYUP STORIES in 2017 pop culture circles was the report that, after years of manufacturing its own version of the defunct Polaroid Corporation’s instant camera film, an appropriately named company known as the Impossible Project had acquired all of Polaroid’s remaining intellectual property. As a result, the IP, now re-born as Polaroid Originals, could now begin making it own brand-new Polaroid cameras.

The story had great appeal for the analog-was-better crowd, the LP-hugging CD haters who pegged the decline of civilization to the day mankind first embraced zeroes and ones. Writer after writer wiped aside a misty tear to rhapsodize about the OneStep2, the first new “Polaroid” camera in more than a decade, and to recount their own fond memories of the “unique” quality of each unreproducable shot, as well as the wonderfully unpredictable randomness of wondering if your next shot, or indeed the entire rest of the film pack, would yield anything in the way of an image that was worth wiping your nose on.

Which brings us to the Brutal Main Truth of the matter: Polaroids were never really good cameras. They were engineered to fulfill a need for uncomplicated and quick gratification, marketed to an audience of snapshooters and selfiemongers. Inventor Edward Land placed all of his emphasis on perfecting the spontaneous function of his film, and to simplifying the taking of pictures to the point that your goldfish could pretty much operate the cameras. That said, Polaroid film was unstable, balky, moody, mushy, and generally useless as an archival medium. Of course, the company tried to shape an alternate narrative: certain high-end, professional grade iterations of the camera appeared at the margins of the photo market, with Polaroid hiring Ansel Adams as a “consultant” on color (which is a little like hiring a childless person to head up a daycare), and the brand got a pass from culture vultures like Andy Warhol, who tried to legitimize the cool, what-the-hell factor of the cameras for a generation hooked on immediacy. But in the end, Polaroid photography delivered mere convenience and fun, seldom art.

In terms of its legacy, there are no classic Polaroid lenses, nor any other evidence that the company ever trusted its customers with taking pictures like grown-ups. Model after model refused to allow users to take even basic manual control of the process of photography, offering instead frozen focal lengths, a stingy array of shutter speeds, and cave-man-level focusing options. Finally, by the dawn of the digital age, Polaroid whimpered out as it had roared in, making the process ever easier, the gear ever cheaper, and the results ever worse.

Polaroid Originals is now poised to do something its namesake never did: make a real good camera for people who also like the tactile, hold-it-in-your-hand sensation of instant photography. But they’re off to a lame start, if the brainless, artless OneStep2 is any indication. Not only is this gob of plastic optically stunted, the film made by Polaroid Originals, who had to figure out the process without any blueprint or guidance from Polaroid, looks even worse than actual Polaroid film, which is a little like finding out that your mud pies don’t look as elegant as everyone else’s. And did we mention the cost, which works out to nearly two dollars per print?

And so, for analog hogs, everything old is really just old again. As we speak, Kodak is preparing to produce an all new Super-8 movie camera… for around $2,400. Surely we can’t be two far from a loving re-launch of the Ford Edsel. I hear they gots a cigarette lighter right in the dashboard…….


(RE)SHAKE IT LIKE A POLAROID

By MICHAEL PERKINS

OVER THE PAST FEW DECEMBERS, The Normal Eye has marked the holidays by recalling classic Christmas advertisements from the Eastman Kodak Company, the first corporation to merge consumers’ seasonal sentiment with the promotion of camera sales. We’ve had fun revisiting examples of the firm’s amazingly successful “Open Me First” campaign, which cheerfully asserted that, basically, it ain’t Christmas until someone puts a Kodak under the tree.

This year, however, seems to argue for a new wrinkle in our tradition, with the long-anticipated resurrection of the Polaroid corporation, or at least its Christmas ghost. The strange saga began in 2008 when Polaroid decided to discontinue the production of its iconic instant film, leaving a half-century’s worth of global users stranded. Enter the entrepreneurial trio of Florian Kaps, Andre Bosman, and Marwan Saba, who bought as much of the company’s factory hardware and film-making process that still remained after Polaroid had begun scrapping parts and burning files. Sadly, most of the sacred secret film recipe had already been destroyed, meaning that the team’s new company, dubbed The Impossible Project, had to painstakingly reverse-engineer the production process, eventually creating an instant film that was much closer to the quirky, low-fi look of Lomography cameras than the precise instruments Polaroid produced in its heyday.

For the next seven years, Impossible Project instant film shot off the shelves to feed the world’s aged inventory of SX-70’s and One-Steps, drawing praise for preserving the feel of film and drawing fire for what was actually pretty crappy color rendition and slooooow development time. Finally, in 2017, Impossible purchased the last remnants of Polaroid’s intellectual property, allowing it to begin manufacturing brand-new cameras for the first time in years and rebranding the company as Polaroid Originals. Christmas 2017 would herald the arrival of the Polaroid OneStep 2, a point-and-shoot quickie designed to compete with other mostly-toy cameras cashing in on the instant film fever. The Ghost Of Shaken Snaps Past walks amongst us once again.

And so, Polaroid is dead and long live Polaroid. The above 1967 Christmas pitch for the original company’s full product line (read the fine print) gives testimony to the incredible instruments that once bore the Polaroid name. You can’t go home again, truly. Not to live, anyway.  However, an occasional 60-second visit can be fun.

Strange colors and all.

 

 

 


TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

This image may not be a masterpiece, but it's mine....unless I willingly give it away. 1/80 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

This image may not be a masterpiece, but it’s mine….unless I willingly give it away. Why should we help dig a grave for authorship of our photos?  1/80 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE CONUNDRUM OF AUTHORSHIP, OR WHAT WE NOW TERM “INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY” RUNS ON A PARALLEL TRACK with the history of photography. Being a mechanical process of printing and reproduction, imaging has, from the first, proven more vulnerable to theft than anything created by the painters’ hand. Indeed, the very means by which photographs became reproducible in mass media such as newspapers and magazines became the first access afforded to thieves of what we ourselves had crafted. It became an unholy bargain. To be seen and discussed, our work had to employ these methods of distribution, and, at the same time, render ourselves vulnerable to those who would spirit away and claim as their own that which they did not create.

Which brings me to the recent brouhaha over Instagram, and its latest user agreement, going into effect in mid-January 2013, which allows the site to redistribute, lease or allocate use of members’ images with no obligation to inform or compensate the creators of those images. This is not my “representation” or “interpretation”. The language of the agreement is so brazenly clear that it’s breathtaking.

Read it.

Reality check: it can easily be argued that our best efforts to certify our claim to our images, through copyright laws, watermarks, terms of service, contracts, etc., still leave us as exposed to harm as a naked mountain climber on a blustery day. But, dear God, that is no reason to help the thieves, or, worse yet, to put ourselves in jeopardy by willingly consigning our work to websites whose stated purpose is to financially benefit by the exploitation of our work.

Instagram has millions of subscribers around the world. Do not ask me why, since I have never seen the benefit of taking mostly mediocre snapshots and rendering them murkier, darker, dirtier or more flawed by the post-application of “fun” filters. I spent my childhood longing for cameras beyond the scope of the cheap plastic boxes affordable to a 12-year-old. Light leaks, color streaks, vignetted corners and lousy chroma were the chains I was longing to break free of, not the post-ironic posturings I thought would render me hip. Toy cameras made bad pictures compared to the cameras grown-ups were using.

Period.

However, while personally writing off Instagram as a harmless toy (even one which has yielded some superior images, by the way), I never saw it as a threat to the sanctity of authorship. Until now. The digital imaging age has encouraged all of us to “give it away” just to get our work noticed (that unholy bargain from Paragraph One), encouraging us to do insane things like send our “on the spot” photos of events (unpaid..!) for use on-air by local TV stations too cheap to put their own photographers in the field. How nice that we have volunteered to be their uncompensated photog team. What a feeling of community, of belonging. Ick.

It should be noted that, following a crap-storm of anger over their announced new user agreement (as of 12/18/12), Instagram has sought to “clarify” their intent, claiming that the agreement’s “language” may have caused consternation.

No duh.

We’ll see what happens, but as of this writing, throngs of tweeters and others have announced their intention to bail, like the jilted lovers they feel themselves to be.

Like I said at the top, it is our need to have our work seen that has often made us shake hands with the devil. With the Instagram debacle, however,we are also fixing him a hot lunch, offering him wine and cigars afterward, and finishing up with a deep tissue message so he can digest properly.

If we sign up for this swindle, it’s on us.

Thoughts?