Do instant pictures have a place in today’s world? Polaroid cornered the market on capturing moments on film as soon as they happen with its tremendously popular instant camera, the SX-70, which debuted in 1972. But the world has changed a lot since then, and now everyone views photos digitally — plus they’re shareable to as many people as you want.
Giving that technological reality, it’s easy to see why Polaroid stopped making its instant cameras, and even the film, which ceased production in 2008. Yet, to anyone who owned one of the more than 200 million Polaroid instant cameras, it was a death knell, transforming their old-but-useful cameras into retro junk.
However, those cameras got a new lease on life via the Impossible Project. After buying up the some retired equipment and leasing an old Polaroid factory in the Netherlands, the company set out to do what Polaroid couldn’t in the digital world: create a successful company around the concept of instant photography.
Sound impossible? Now you’re getting it. The company began selling instant film in 2010, and it’s branched into building products as well. Although plans for a new analog instant camera have been hit with delays, the company launched a Kickstarter project in September to build an ”Instant Lab” for developing (not printing) iPhone photos. The project more than doubled its funding goal of $250,000.
The Impossible Lab
The Impossible Instant Lab has a very curious design that’s also familiar. The bottom is clearly based on the Polaroid instant camera, with a retro-looking boom that extends upward to create a place for your iPhone to rest. The lab then captures the image from the iPhone’s screen and — in exactly the same way a Polaroid camera does — spits out a photo, complete with white border.
“The design, a big part is form follows function,” says Achim Heine, lead designer for Impossible. “I did the whole design very near to its functionality, so everyone can see how it works — from how you can load the film to the button to push. I tried to design it in a way where it looks not cheap, but very elegant.”
A key to creating the Lab was the product’s film processing unit (FPU). This was a major challenge for the company because it couldn’t simply ape Polaroid’s technology, since at economies of scale, what worked for a multinational company mass producing millions of cameras wasn’t going to work for a startup making only 50,000 to 100,000.
“We worked very hard on the film processing unit, because it’s a very, very difficult thing,” says Heine. “I had more of a role as an engineer, finding out the ways we can do the film processing inside [the Lab].
“We had a close look at the ways Polaroid did it. In the end we worked with engineers from a German company that had a lot of analog experience. We found some technical solutions that are i think a little bit better than the old ones — much more stable and easier to produce. Once we had the FPU, then it’s possible to build different products on top of it.”
An Analog Comeback?
The Impossible Lab is the first such product, but more are planned, including a new instant camera. But it all still begs the question: What is the place of instant photos — analog, no less — in today’s touchscreen, digital, socially connected world?
“Now that the world is completely digital, you want some analog stuff,” Heine says. “Normally you have all the images on your hard disk, and you don’t print any of them out. But people love to have a nice moment, and they make one picture. It may not be as sharp, but it’s also not cold. This is the success of Instagram, but Instagram is only a simulation of the analog world. We did this for real.”
What do you think of the Impossible Project, and it’s resurrection of analog photography? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Mallorie Aquino is based in sunny Kihei, Hawaii. A marine scientist and avid traveller who enjoys sharing informative articles to a broad audience on a variety of interesting topics. She is constantly learning and ready to share her experiences with the world through words.