The Story of the Death (and Rebirth) of Polaroid Film

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In 2008, Polaroid discontinued a product that seemed to be pretty much obsolete in the digital age: instant film. Except that it wasn’t obsolete at all. A lot of people still liked taking Polaroid photos and found things in the medium that digital couldn’t match.

One of them was Florian Kaps, an Austrian fan who missed Polaroid film so much that he spearheaded an effort to buy a shuttered Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and restart production. His aptly named Impossible Project now sells new film for classic Polaroid cameras, operates gallery-stores in multiple countries and generally makes the world a better and more interesting place.

The actual Polaroid Corp. may be a shadow of its once great self, but thanks in large part to the Impossible Project, the hobby of Polaroid photography is in its best shape in eons, and more and more people seem to be discovering it, including some folks who are too young to remember the era when Polaroid was everywhere. You can even buy vintage Polaroid cameras and new Impossible film from Urban Outfitters.

(The Impossible film, incidentally, is for the Polaroid cameras that use “integral” film — the sort that pops out of the camera automatically and develops before your eyes. Other Polaroid cameras, using earlier technology, are known as packfilm models, and Fujifilm never stopped making film for them. I own and use both kinds of cameras and have at least as much fun with them as I do with any modern photographic instrument I own. The cameras still work great, and you can’t use one in public without people stopping, marveling and asking, “You can still get film for that?”)

One of the Polaroid photographers who mourned the end of film production was Grant Hamilton, who takes some remarkable instant photos. (I interviewed him for my epic story on the creation of Polaroid’s SX-70, an amazing camera that was sort of the iPad of its day.) For the past several years, Hamilton has been working on a documentary on the sad end and unexpected new beginning of Polaroid film. It’s called Time Zero, and you can watch the trailer above.

The film is premiering April 28 at the Independent Film Festival at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Mass.; more information is available at It’s an appropriate venue for a movie about Polaroid — the theater is three miles from the company’s former headquarters — but I hope the movie makes its way to the San Francisco Bay Area soon. I can’t wait to see it.

BONUS MATERIAL: when the SX-70 was announced, it was such a big deal that it, and Polaroid co-founder and resident genius Edwin Land, appeared on the covers of both TIME and LIFE. Here’s the TIME cover story, and here’s the LIFE one.