Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Polaroid's Instant Film Plants Shuttered.

I'm a sucker for any article about a local company, especially when it's one like Polaroid, that was such a household name.

It was even a household name in our household when I was growing up, and that was really saying something, given that we were late adopters of just about everything you can think of.

Color TV? Why, we wouldn't think of getting one until the picture was as bright as a technicolor movie. (I'm not sure when color TV's became the visual equivalent of technicolor, but our family did eventually move to living color - sometime after my father died in 1971.)

Clothes dryer? Who needs one? Sheets smell wonderful when they're dried outdoors. So what if in the winter, line-dried towels turn as stiff and scratchy as planks of dried cod.

Dishwasher? What are kids for, if not to wash and dry dishes?

But at some point in the late 1950's/early 1960's, my father bought a Polaroid camera. This was just about the time they were making their first mass-market push, and my father got us one.

Maybe he didn't want us to end up like he did, with no camera recording of his childhood.

Other than an extended family picture taken when my father was a few months old, there were no pictures of him as a kid. The next picture of my father was his high school graduation portrait, which we loved because he had hair. (A couple of years ago, my cousin Barbara found a picture of the Worcester South High football team, taken when my father was 14 or 15. My father didn't get his full growth until later in his teens, and in the picture he still looks like a little kid. I wept when I saw that picture.)

So my father became a Polaroid-ing fool, taking pictures of us on any old occasion - the less formal the better. (In one of my favorites, "shot" by my mother, I'm sitting on the living couch, with my father's arm around me. We're both grinning into the camera. I'm in my PJ's, with my hair all done up in spoolie curlers, covered by a hair net.)

So I was sorry to read the news that Polaroid is closing down its last plants in Massachusetts, as well as those overseas, and is exiting the instant film photography business. (These plants all produced films; Polaroid had already exited the camera business.)

It will only eliminating 150 jobs in Massachusetts - at its high point, it employed 15,000 in the state - but the word "only" only works if you're not one of the employees impacted. And that "only" represents about half of Polaroid's Massachusetts workforce. The good news is that there's a program at Worcester Tech (WPI) to retrain the laid off manufacturing workers for jobs in bio-tech.

Still, it's sad to see this icon go.

As for those who still use Polaroid cameras,

... Polaroid chief operating officer Tom Beaudoin said the company is interested in licensing its technology to an outside firm that could manufacture film for faithful Polaroid customers. If that doesn't happen, Polaroid users would have to find an alternative photo technology, as the company plans to make only enough film to last into next year.

Let the hoarding begin!

As I've blogged about here, Polaroid has an alliance with Zink, which prints mini-prints of digital photos, which may give them continued lease on life. And they're concentrating on flat-panel TV's and other more digital business.

Half of the Polaroid pictures we took turned out terrible. They were light struck, and only developed half the picture. Or they were too dark. Or didn't come out at all.

You had to coat them with a foul-smelling chemical (that smelled like a home permanent), and if you didn't coat them right away, the pictures curled up.

But, ah, the bragging rights when we were the first family on the block with a Polaroid camera!

It almost made up for the those dishpan hands.

No comments: