Long before digital cameras came along, there was a different type of instant photography. Instant photography as we know it can generally be credited to Edwin Land, who unveiled the first commercial instant camera in 1948, 11 years after the Polaroid Corporation was founded. Edwin Land, a innovator and genius who has over 500 U.S. patents to his name, was inspired by his three year old daughter. She wanted to know why she couldn't see the picture he just took of her. Obviously, immediate gratification has been a character trait of the American people for a long time, as is evident with this example. Land initially developed instant film and then the mass market camera was released to the public a year later.
Polaroid enjoyed a long, successful run, but when the industry shifted to digital, they had a hard time competing and eventually filed for Chapter 11 in 2001. Everything, including the Polaroid name, was sold to a Bank One subsidiary. Instant cameras ceased to be produced by Polaroid in 2007 and the film was discontinued in 2009. This left many fans and users in a state of shock while putting thousands of perfectly good Polaroid cameras out of use. Fujifilm introduced their own line of instant photo products in 1981. They were allowed access to Polaroid's technology due to a technology share; Fuji's history with magnetic media was something Polaroid was interested in at the time. This allowed Fuji to continue their foray into instant photography. In 1999, Fuji launched the Instax integral series of instant photography products. These cameras and film are still produced today.
So, after this brief overview of instant photography, you may be wondering what the point is. Well, as I mentioned, I recently came across an article from the British Journal of Photography about Fujifilm and its' commitment to instant photography. Perhaps, it's a recommitment, since Fuji has been in the instant photography market since the 80s. I'm not going to quote the article verbatim, but it's essentially stating that Fujifilm is relaunching the Instax brand with a marketing campaign featuring a website and Facebook page that targets the 15-25 year old female market. Oliver Laurent, the author of the article, quotes Gabriel Da Costa, the product manager for Fujifilm as saying: "There's a whole generation who missed out on the 'golden age' of instant photography and we're confident that the Instax range will prove to be a big hit with today's tech-savvy youth." Here's a link to the whole article.
So, where does that leave us today and where does instant photography land in the scheme of things. First, let me say that instant photography can serve multiple and very different purposes. The thing that is great about instant photography is that it generates interest in traditional film photography. It's no secret that I've been enamoured with the world of film this past year and if it takes a Fuji Instax camera to create that interest for someone else, then so be it. An individual doesn't have to pick up a view camera to make film or their art relevant. It's simply a medium; just as painting has oils, acrylics, spray, water colors, etc. Film has instant, minox, 110, 35mm, 120, 4x5 and many other formats. Each artist can use whatever canvas they choose as long as they are happy and it helps them achieve their artistic vision. This is where I believe the different uses for instant photography come in. The Instax camera is being marketing towards an age group that will love taking the camera with them to parties, concerts, clubs, and wherever else they go to hang out and have fun. This camera will serve as a way to take those "photo booth" type pictures with their friends. Instant cameras can also be used to document family memories. Instead of taking hundreds of images that will never leave a digital screen, prints of a family Christmas or birthday can be made instantly. It's simply magic. That is what I see to be the first use of instant photography.
The second use of instant photography is to produce relevant photographic art. It blows my mind when individuals don't consider Polaroid or instant photography to be a valid form of photography. It's all about the vision of the artist. If the artist uses instant film as his/her canvas, and the vision is achieved, then what does it matter? Ansel Adams was a friend of Edwin Land and he helped Land perfect the film and cameras. In fact, he produced an amazing book of his Polaroids called Singular Images. Adams is a beloved photographer and was most famous for his large format, black and white, landscape work. Yet, he used an instant film to produce different, but altogether, stunning images. Who are we to judge what is a relevant format or not for an artist to use? It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; Polaroid, and instant film provide a specific type of beauty and should be treated as such.
I guess what I'm getting at is that instant photography is a relevant form of art and photography and I hope that companies that get behind it can continue to keep the format relevant. Anyone that commits to a potentially defunct format in the name of art should be applauded. This allows an artist, such as myself, another way to flex my creativity. What irritates me about Fujifilm is the lack of recommitment to the other instant film that they produce. They still make Type 100 pack film for Polaroid Land Cameras. They produce a black and white film; FP-3000b, as well as a color film; FP-100c. There has been no announcement or indication that they will discontinue the film, but they've already quietly discontinued one of their other offerings about a year ago, the FP-100b. Thankfully, there are individuals like Michael Raso of the Film Photography Podcast that are trying to get these cameras and film into the hands of photographers all over the world. It would be a shame if all of the excitement and interest in Polaroid Land Cameras is for nought. I hope they decide that to fully commit to instant film, they need to continue to produce and market the Type 100 film. One would think that the success of the Impossible Project would be a contributing factor; while the two companies are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to size, Fujifilm should look at the Impossible Project and learn how to spur a renewed interest in a format.
Instant photography was popular, became irrelevant to the general public and eventually faded into the background. The impossible has happened and instant film photography is back into the consumer conscience; it's a true form of art and I hope companies such as Fuji and the Impossible Project are able to provide this canvas for a very long time.
Sources: British Journal of Photography, Wikipedia