Today’s social networked world is about ephemeral imagery. Facebook asks users to document their lives on Timeline, and Flickr offers users a way to print photos. Yet there’s something that happens to a photo after it has been exposed to a social media audience – it has been seen by others. Its secretive nature is lost. We communicate with one another using visual imagery, not just voice and text. In some ways, it feels more natural – especially for the visually inclined – to communicate in this way. Photo inboxes are in our future.
Where does a meaningful photo live? In the Victorian era, photographs were not readily available. If a family wanted to have a photograph taken, a photographer would have to come by the home. It required absolute stillness from the subject matter, the family.
Photography has come a long way since the Victorian era. The daguerreotype became popularized during the Industrial Revolution. Color photography became popular in the early 20th century. Kodak emerged in 1888, making photography accessible to the masses. Kodak first introduced the Brownie camera and the idea of the snapshot as it were, in 1900. This is the antithesis of a Victorian family photograph – anyone can use it, it’s affordable and requires little to no planning or forethought. The most popular model, the Brownie 127, was sold between 1952-1967. Finally, people could freely capture the world around them.
Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid Camera, released the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95, on February 21, 1947. It printed only sepia-tone; black-and-white film became available in 1950, and color appeared in 1963. In 1972, Polaroid introduced the SX-70 Land Camera, a single-lens reflex (SLR) with a built-in viewfinder; now the shooter could see what they were going to get before even taking the photo. The Polaroid aesthetic had arrived.
In December 2008, the Polaroid Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Four years later, in January 2012, Kodak filedfor Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was death by smartphone photography – and more specifically, by the iPhone.
Instagram and the Revived Polaroid Photographic Moment
This brings me to Instagram. People use Instagram to capture those fleeting moments, but also to be part of an online community, or to connect with their Facebook community. Instagrams are like the Polaroid photo that, despite its physical death, is still alive as an aesthetic choice. Instagram has revived the Polaroid aesthetic. So now, how to make Instagrams more like Polaroids?
Instaprint, a new location-based photo booth for Instagram, seeks to transform those Polaroid-esque Instagram photos into physical images. It has a chance at marrying the ephemeral photo found on social networks with the handspun quality of a once-in-a-lifetime image that may actually be worth 1,000 words.
Which brings me back to the Victorian photograph. There is something inherently timeless and unique about the Victorian photograph. And that something is time – the time it takes to stage and capture the people in the photograph. It is the opposite of instant communication. It’s something that Polaroids, Brownie cameras or Instagrams cannot capture. It is time, elapsed.
Shutter speeds today take milliseconds not minutes, and they just keep getting faster. Instaprint is not going to reinvent the essence of a Victorian family photograph, but it is a pretty neat party trick for those who want to preserve the ephemeral. Each Instaprint box is set with location or a specific hashtag; any Instagram tagged with the location or hashtag will print from the Instaprint box, replicating the nostalgic photo booth. Instagrams are the new Polaroid despite the fact that the physical photograph is gone. At the very least, however, with technologies like Instaprint, we can at least make a subtle attempt at getting it back.