The Polaroid Project

Imprints of Our Past Part 1

All images supplied by the author

For a long time now, I have been fascinated with objects from the past. I was a history nerd in high school, and whilst I didn’t win any prizes, I probably asked the most questions. The need to know things, to understand them deeply was instilled in me from a young age, and to do that properly we need a historical context. When I think of the world we currently live in; it’s not at all tangible. We write down our stories, play music, and take our photos from devices — and these devices store that data. If it disappears, it’s gone.  

‘Old’ technologies have been replaced with newer models, but they still have their moments. To go deeper into the histories of old things is to dig like an archaeologist, into science and technology and ultimately see just how far we’ve come. But people don’t normally get that philosophical when trying to listen to music or take a photo.

My friend has a typewriter in a brown protective box that I once borrowed and I still wish it was mine. The tap-tap-tapping of me furiously expelling my thoughts onto a page at 11pm at night did not have any margin for error; nor did it foster any fondness for a revolutionary technology from my brother’s room across the hall. But I loved it. And it has a moment in time for me. The words I wrote with it are still littered around my house in a beautiful old typeface. I like finding them.

My parents turn their noses up at my collecting of vinyl records. They were teenagers in the 1980s — the sound quality is terrible, they say. But for them it’s not a prized thing; it was part of their norm. They now have Apple Music accounts so the modern transition is complete. Vinyls weren’t collectible to them. They weren’t special. The vinyl resurgence is certainly having its day, pulling me and my special designated savings account along with it. Albeit without the cheap or fast processing times of the past. If I play a vinyl on my grandmother’s record player that I don’t know is how old, will it sound better than my Spotify? No. But will it feel different? Yes.

Which brings me to photos. I’m obsessed with them. When I was younger, I told my parents I wanted to be a photojournalist. That was before the beast known as Instagram arrived to crush those dreams. The objects in our houses that contain the decades are photo albums. You find an old photo of a pet you used to have or a relative that you don’t get to spend time with anymore, and for a moment you can be with them. 

Do people put photos in albums anymore? No. Why? Because they live on our phones; accessible and ready to share. Any old photos can be scanned and brought to life digitally with ease as well. These imprints of the past are probably the most fascinating thing to me. I’ve lost whole months of my life because the photos on my phone have simply disappeared. For better or worse I’ve tried to piece them together. A moment that can never be retrieved. 

Which brings me to the Polaroid Project. 

I was given my first instant camera to take on a Hawaiian family holiday in 2013. My uncle worked for Fuji, and it was a little baby Instax (not the Polaroid brand). I was over the moon. Since then, two small cameras later, I have a lot of instant photos. A different family member actually presented me with a vintage Polaroid (actual brand) later. Up until now, I didn’t know how old it was. The model was brought out in 1988, which to me, was very cool. Sadly, with the ridiculously inflated price of film, I haven’t really been able to use it. I’ve convinced myself that it’s just something cool to look at. 

Film has a reputation, like vinyl records being not-so-high-quality, which is why they’ve been so easy to replace. But the true quality to me lies in the nature of the photo. Beautiful, impermanent and unique. 

The 600 film is a different size to the ones I can make mistakes and can have fun with, and it’s more than double the price. When I bought film for this camera on eBay in May, I was ready to use it very intentionally. I have 16 black and white photos, and I’ve already taken 5, and I’ve just bought some colour film to be used straight after.

I know I want to capture moments that can’t be retrieved — but in a way that is historical too. This year and the last have been hard for all of us in so many ways. Ever the optimist, I didn’t want to look back in time and just be depressed. I want to hang something on my wall in colour (and black and white), and remember the people, the places, and the adventures.

I hope you enjoy The Polaroid Project when it comes as much as I do.

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