Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture, While You Still Can

shake it like this picture.jpgIn a few decades, when the still-infectious opening strains of Outkast‘s Hey Ya! fill your flying car (courtesy of the GoogleRadio Oldies Station), a tiny, befuddled voice will ask: “Grandparent, what does ‘Shake it like a Polaroid picture’ mean?” And you’ll have to explain…about the magic of the Polaroid camera, the suspense of watching the photos develop, and how in 2008, the company announced that, “due to marketplace conditions,” it had discontinued almost all of its instant film products.

The Guardian‘s Mark Lawson has composed a fitting eulogy for “the special smelly, sticky film that made scenes and faces appear magically in your palm — or, in lower temperatures, under your armpit.” He believes that the passing of the Polaroid instant camera “should be mourned by all who use technology because these rapid cameras heralded two of the governing obsessions of today’s culture: immediacy and self-production.” And the cruel ironies don’t end there:

…the fact that the Polaroid has been killed largely by digital photography seems cruel, because it was the older camera that inadvertently hinted at one of the main tricks of the newer ones: the possibility of manipulating the image. Although cameras had always been able to lie, the Polaroid proved a better fibber than most because the developing process meant that the image could be smudged or otherwise interfered with before becoming fixed. Again, this was a preview of what computers would do for shooting.