Freehand Life

Freehand Life

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The Polaroid Land 80: An American Microcosm in an Antique Find

August 21, 2011 ,

The Polaroid Land camera “instantly” intrigued me at the antique market today. The Model 80’s accordion-like extension evoked an older age than its 1950’s production.  The black leather strap barely hangs on by the stitching.  The lens knobs still turn easily.  The delightful discovery continued with the back film casing.

What sold the deal was the feel of the heavy metal construction.  It’s as if the sturdy weight corresponded with its “made in the old days quality.”  The “Made in the U.S.A” label and litany of 5 patent numbers shows amazing American innovation.  The Land camera was named after its inventor and Polaroid founder, Edwin Land.  Did you know that Land holds the most number of patents second to Thomas Edison?  Land dropped out of Harvard just before graduating to start Polaroid, similar to Bill Gates starting Microsoft.  Polaroid actually first produced polarized sunglasses, which I wonder if this inspired Oakley.

My treasure trove find has the Polaroid Wink-Light attached.  Photographers only had two options for a flash in the late 1950’s: the one-use bulbs or expensive electronic flash guns.  The Wink-Light’s design uses a 45-volt battery to charge a capacitor.  The capacitor discharges when a 12-volt lamp is tripped via the shutter.  The result is brief and bright flash from the long lasting bulb.  The high speed of the newly introduced 3000 ASA Polaroid films went well with this new light.  Too bad Polaroid discontinued all print film production in 2009 and the roll film for the Model 80 decades before.  Although Lady Gaga has been marketed as the “new face of Polaroid” since 2010, I haven’t seen one blip in the news or on the shelf.

Every invention follows a lifecycle of innovation, modification and decline.  Polaroid’s demise against the digital photo age parallels Hewlett-Packard’s recent announcement of exiting the PC business partly due to the tablet.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were American innovators like Edwin Land, famously starting HP in their Palo Alto garage in 1939.  Does this mean I should start collecting old HP computers, too?

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