Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: Polaroid RIP

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Polaroid RIP

I never owned Polaroid camera. We had other things at my parents' house: a cute and dear brownie camera, a nice 35mm Canon, even sundry cheap point and clicks for my siblings and me. But there was something about Polaroids that didn't suit my mother's photographic inclinations. She's never said as much, but I think there was something she considered crass about Polaroids - their indulgence of instant gratification (although, I think what actually happens here is more subtle and complicated...), their room for captions, their smell, even.

But I liked them.
I liked the smell (my mother and I often differed in our olfactory judgments - she wondered how on earth I could possibly like the smell of gasoline, for instance). I liked the tension between quick gratification and delayed pleasure that those moments spent waiting for the image to emerge engendered. I liked the look-shake-look pacing of it all.

And I liked the kinder, more impressionistic image that resulted. This could have had something to do with my poor eyesight. I still remember how alarming it was when I first got glasses (at 7) and the world became sharp. All of it turned promptly from soft and indistinct to sharp - the things I saw and the headaches I had. Trees suddenly had individual leaves; signs had words on them; sounds in the woods had animals dashing. Still, this vividness sometimes seemed to me to be utterly overwhelming. In the woods, I would sometimes take my glasses off and rely on the suggested messages of my poor eyesight, rather than the firm dictations of the world through my glasses. When I could see the disappointed expression of a parent, I would take them off and a furrowed brow would blur. Maybe there was something appealing about the vagueness of Polaroids.

by director Andrei Tarkovsky

There's a lot about Polaroids that make them poignant. In their popular form, they're one-of-a-kind. They're not little gems in the same way Daguerreotypes are, but they are singular. Even when you can peel back the jacket of a Polaroid and press and press and press, it fades a little each time, or you move it as you press and it smudges. Or the paper wrinkles. At any rate, there are endless opportunities for punctum. They change in your hands. They're used as tests for proper photos (I can't help but feel an affinity with anything so used for practice).



betsy q. bramble said...

The way you talk about first getting your glasses reminds me of the boy I told you about. When I asked him about the first moment he could hear, in third grade, he said it sounded like a huge static wave rushing in. He said he had to relearn language and all of his favorite songs. I wasn't sure what he meant about music, but I liked the statement as it was, so I left it.

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

Huge static wave. That would be pretty incredible.

I still sometimes take off my glasses when people are mad at me. It goes something like this: Hey, you're mad at me! Stop making that face! [Removes glasses.] Now you're blurry! Haha!

melissa said...

Omg...the thought of you taking off your glasses when people are mad at you and then inwardly laughing about their blurriness is so charming it hurts. But what I really wanted to say was this: I always loved the smell of gasoline...AND I still remember my first excursion with my grandfather's was a school trip to some sort of natural park. i was completely uninterested in taking pictures of people...only pictures of squirrels (to which I could barely get close enough) and beaver dams and birds...
now all i want to do is capture unexpected portraits of people who seem exotic to the biddies in Spain and Italy. hmmm.

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

And the thought of YOU trying to get polaroids of all the squirrels is equally charming!