I HAVE very recently started shooting with 35mm film again and caught up in my enthusiasm, my mother dug out a long-forgotten never-used-before Polaroid One instant camera from some closet in our home a couple of weeks ago.
I think it was a free gift from quite a few years back, when I'd bought my first digital camera.
Cool, I'd thought to myself. Now I need to find some film to put this baby to some use.
A relic from the closet.
-- ST PHOTOS: BY LIN ZHAOWEI
But it was not to be.
Polaroid Corp, the US company that marketed Polaroid brand products, apparently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December last year. I didn't even notice. And now all existing stock of Polaroid film is going for exorbitant prices on the internet.
The advent of the digital photography age has eroded whatever popularity Polaroid had enjoyed, having beaten it to its art of instant gratification photography through its low cost and accessibility. Being a relatively niche product to begin with, Polaroid stood no chance. Even professional photographers, who had to use Polaroid for testing lights last time, have predominantly switched to digital as well for its greater convenience.
To use a Polaroid One, press a button and the camera lens and viewfinder pops up. Press the red button to shoot, and then wait a few minutes as the image appears on the Polaroid film.
For analogue photography fans, the bad news didn't stop there. Earlier this year, Eastman Kodak Company announced it was discontinuing production of the last of its iconic Kodachrome Colour films, after 74 years of existence.
Closer to home, I have noticed that the neighbourhood photo labs that develop negative film are harder to find nowadays, now that I'm starting to use film again. And as I found out a month ago, when there is currently only one lab in Singapore that still develops slide film.
But fortunately, Polaroid wasn't going away with a whimper.
As I found out, an Austrian entrepreneur and Polaroid enthusiast named Florian Kaps banded together with André Bosman, engineering manager of the last Polaroid film factory in Enschede, Netherlands, to start the "Impossible Project" last October, with the belief that analogue instant photography still has a place.
They scrapped together US$2.6 million from family, friends and wellwishers and gathered a team of former Polaroid employees to start studying how to create a new Polaroid film that will appeal to the current generation at the Enschede plant, which they have taken over.
As Mr Kaps noted in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, the success of digital has created opportunities in analogue. “If everyone runs in one direction, it creates a niche market in the other,” he said.
Mr Kaps was also one of the figures behind the cult Lomographic Society.
Adding to their momentum, imaging consortium Summit Global Group signed an exclusive five-year license agreement to produce and distribute Polaroid-branded products ranging from cameras to film in June this year. In October, the group announced that it will be releasing new instant photograph cameras in 2010, and with the Impossible Project commissioned to make the film.
And on Thursday, its Japanese subsidiary Summit Global Japan held a press conference to announce that Polaroid is making a comeback starting in Japan, one of the key photography markets.
"The world of instant photography today is as relevant as it was 30 years ago," announced Giovanni Tomaselli, CEO of Summit Global Japan, according to Kyodo news agency.
Targetting those in their late teens up to the early 30s, the company will be focusing on making "fun", "feasible" and "fashionable" Polaroid merchandise. One of the products that were announced for Spring 2010 was the pocket-sized PoGo, which allows you to print photos directly from a mobile phone or a digital camera. A new Polaroid 1000 instant film camera is slated for Summer 2010, reported Nikkei.
Japanese sales are targeted at 12 billion yen (S$185 million) in three years.
And Kodak is still going strong on its film business. In fact, they even released a new film, the Ektar 100, last year, a surprising move in the digital age. According to Kodak, it was designed from the ground up for scanning -- a critical process for film users nowadays -- and is said to have the finest grain for negative film. And it has been going big on its latest offering, splashing eye-catching advertisements in various photography magazines worldwide.
A local shop, which brought in a few hundred rolls of Ektar 100 in 120 and 35mm formats a few weeks ago, told me that they were running out of stock fast. I quickly hoarded five rolls.
I am now excited about collecting my first developed roll of Ektar next week.
Looking forward to pushing the red button in 2010.
And come next year, I hope I can finally put that Polaroid One camera to some use. Without breaking the bank, of course.