Monday, August 5, 2013

Like a Polaroid Picture

Pay no attention to the chair covered in sweaters behind the camera.
Shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture.*
—"Hey Ya," Outkast 

Does this ever happen to you: someone brings something up in conversation, or you see something on the internet, and later that day you end up on eBay searching desperately for something you never knew you wanted? It happens to me a couple times a year; mostly, I manage to convince myself that it's a bad idea and walk away, since, while it always feels good to buy something I really want, it's rare that it can actually do much to make me a happier person. Occasionally, though, I do end up buying something, and every once in a while one of these items becomes a useful or enjoyable part of my life. Today's post is about my most recent eBay impulse buy, which I'm hoping will fall into that last category and make my life a bit more fun.

A few weeks ago, I came down with severe case of wanting a Polaroid camera. I scoured eBay and eventually came away with a Polaroid Pronto!, one of the more basic Polaroid cameras released in the 70s, right when Polaroid instant photography was starting to get really big. It cost me around $15. That was the easy part.


The tricky part turned out to be getting film for the thing, since Polaroid stopped making film in 2008 (and they stopped making cameras even earlier). Fortunately for Polaroid enthusiasts and for noobs like me, someone decided to buy an old Polaroid film factory and set up shop making film for old Polaroid cameras. I got my film shipped in from the factory, but apparently you can also find it at Urban Outfitters.

Because this is 2013 and I am a millennial, the first picture I took was a self-portrait. This turned out kind of awesomely bad:

Things I did not anticipate when taking this picture include: 1. it's hard to keep a camera steady when holding it at arm's length, 2. it's important to consider the lighting conditions and adjust the camera's settings accordingly, and 3. the closest distance the camera can focus at is 3 feet, which is slightly longer than my arms are. Failure to think of all this beforehand led to a motion-blurred, overexposed, and out-of-focus picture. You can just barely tell it's me wearing a bow tie.

I was disappointed, but the risk of taking a terrible photo is kind of half the fun with this thing. I don't feel any special sense of satisfaction when I take an effective picture with my phone, because I tend to take five or ten to make sure one turns out okay, and there's little effort expended in the process since the camera automatically adjusts focus, steadies the picture, and even adapts to the lighting conditions. Taking a good picture with a film camera requires forethought, judgement, and a little luck, which can makes it kind of thrilling to snap a photo. With the Polaroid, I get the added bonus of getting the picture back quite quickly, rather than having to take film in to be developed—not to mention the simple joy I find in the sound the camera makes when I press the button and the feeling of it ejecting the film (it brings back my childhood a little bit every time). There's also a great feeling of anticipation as I wait for the photo to develop; taking a peek ten minutes after the shot and seeing whether it's likely to turn out okay is always exciting.

Still, each of the problems I encountered in my first photo has taken time and effort to overcome; at this point, I've still got more pictures with problems than without them. Here's my second picture, when I was still so excited about the camera that subject didn't really matter:

I think there's literally a dog butt around the corner there.
I'd sort of figured out the lighting and managed to keep my hand steady in this photo, but I hadn't quite figured out how to focus on the bookcase.

In this picture, I think I had the focus and lighting okay, but I accidentally jiggled the camera when I snapped the shot, leading to some unfortunate motion blur.

I had hoped for something a bit better with this one, but lighting conditions in the subway led to a picture of a train without any train in it!

I haven't taken too many photos yet, and I'm still not even sure that I'm going to do much with my new camera in the long term, but I have managed to snap a few pictures that I really like. My favorite activity so far has been to take the camera to parties and give the pictures away to party guests or hosts, which people seem to enjoy. Since I don't have any of those photos (because I gave them away!), I'll show a few others that I've taken on my own.

Out the back of an El train at the Damen Blue Line stop.
On an abandoned train trestle in my neighborhood.
The view out my window at work.
Steps leading up from a stream to a back yard.

*Note: you shouldn't actually shake a Polaroid picture while it's developing; it doesn't help it develop any, and it can actually damage the image if you shake it while it's still developing. That said, this was the only song that I could think of related to today's subject, and it's fun, so whatever.
†Yes, finding this out did strike fear into my heart, as I worried that I might, in fact, be a hipster. No one's called me out on it yet, but I can only assume it's coming.

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