Polaroid Corporation is closing the last of its film manufacturing plants by the end of 2008, bringing to an end the original instant photograph. Done in by marketplace conditions – a great euphemism for digital photography – the innovative camera and film system brought joy to both amateur and serious photographers, nature lovers and voyeurs alike.
The demise of Polaroid is a rather sad tale of lost vision and bad management. Even though the company dabbled in digital photography – selling some of the earliest digital cameras – Polaroid never really saw the digital revolution coming. Like Kodak, they stubbornly stuck to their mission – innovative but obsolete chemical technology – and paid a heavy price. By 2020 the company’s technology will be just a footnote alongside the buggy whip.
I am sorry to see analog photography disappear. There was always something about getting my hands wet in the darkroom, the feel of the photographic paper, the smell of stop bath. But I’m also a realist, and the business model that allows me to shoot thousands of digital photographs at essentially no cost but the camera is going to beat out film photography hands down. And it did.
Although it’s still kicking, Kodak has for years been in retrenchment as it tries to leverage its knowledge of optics and photography to create product lines that will enable its future survival. But it’s a shadow of its former self. Kodak Park has been all but torn down (less taxes to the city of Rochester) and its consumer digital products have much smaller margins than its former film products. Will it survive in the long run? It’ll probably outlive me, but not because it relied on silver halide chemisty as a foundational business element.
In the meantime, Polaroid will be gone, and very shortly at that. Au revoir, Polaroid. You barely outlived Dr. Land.