Media hybrids: a small note on analogue media today

At a time when analogue technologies are made for digital generations (besides to former and long-time practitioners), everything indicates that analogue instant photography today cannot be thought under the same logics as before. This statement gains relevance when we witness the boom analogue media are having (and have been having over the las few years), being Polaroid (or instant photography) only one of the analogue revival cases.

An example of this is The Guardian’s article that analyses the higher rates of vinyl sales over other forms of digital music consumption (https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/06/tables-turned-as-vinyl-records-outsell-digital-in-uk-for-first-time). This can also be seen (although without the actual numbers) in every major photographic brand such as Leica, Lomo and Fujifilm (although this last one for a longer time) releasing new instant cameras.

This market diagnose means that when thinking about analogue revivals, and specifically Polaroid photography, we must approach them through a different lens and taking into consideration the new context in which analogue technologies unfold. And this is exactly what happens when we look at the younger generation that are buying these analogue technologies (because this increase has not been generated by long-time users).

Thus, if analogue technologies are suscitating interest today is because they have found a space in which the can coexist and even expand themselves as hybrids or crossovers –media that remain analogue yet expand into the digital– and an audience that although digital in its essence, appreciate the value of analogue.

A hybrid example is the Instant Lab produced by The Impossible Project. This media, which “transforms images on your smartphone or tablet screen into real instant photos that develop in the palm of your hand” as the product description states, is an analogue printer for digital photography. It basically works by exposing a digital image from your phone through a lens and then into the film, creating an analogue version of a digitally produced image, which maintains the analogue character, yet through a digital interaction.

This media suggests that the political discourse about the authenticity of image making, which has been seen as one of Polaroid main features (mainly because of its difference with negative and digital photography) is shifting and with it, the nature of Polaroid photography. This means that if Polaroid was once deemed as unique and one of a kind photography* –contra Benjamin’s photographic thesis–, today Polaroid photography is no longer this.

Yet, this also suggests that when analysing ‘old’ media revivals it is necessary to reflect upon the way they adapt and coexist with new technologies and newer users. Instant photography users today don’t seem to be attached to originality discourses but in fact praise immediacy and the possibility of having your mobile picture printed on the spot (without the possibility of missing the one-time opportunity that Polaroid demanded). For them, the unique character of Polaroid doesn’t seem to be as important as immediacy and shareability, and the mobile interaction only enhances the brilliance of the product.

Ultimately, this means that instead of keeping apart the ‘fake’ Polaroids from the ‘real’ ones (like I do), we will have to understand the revival and the hybrids that come along with it as part of a newer context in which Polaroid place is part of a wider phenomenon.

In the long-term this also suggests that in a few years from now when we encounter Polaroid photographies they will no longer assert its unique one-of-a-kind nature (that remanent of aura which linked the photograph to a time and place), but these will refer to a different time in which analogue and digital adapted to create something new.

*It is important to note that Polaroid photography could be reproduced by sending the original photograph to the Polaroid Corporation and receiving a copy back (a photograph of the original photograph), I will argue that they were never ‘meant’ to be copied or mass reproduced as other forms of photography.

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