My folks had a Polaroid Land camera. My grandparents did, too. It was this glorious bit of plastic and chemistry. You clicked the button, pulled the paper tab and waited and you were rewarded with an image.
True, it wasn’t a great image. The colors were off, tending towards yellow-brown. The edges were indistinct, lost in the fade and fog due to the cheap plastic lens that focused the picture.
But it was as close to instant as you could get. You didn’t have to wait weeks for the developer to see that look on Grandma’s face. A few plastic clicks and you had those memories captured in place, ready to be passed around the family reunion with the bucket of chicken and potato salad.
You can probably find one of those old cameras at a yard sale for a buck or two, but I’m not sure you can get old Polaroid film anymore. Not easily, I’d guess. And not inexpensively, either.
But I notice the images themselves are back in vogue. There’s an app for that nowadays. There are a handful of those Smart Phone filters, for iPhone or Android, that will happily turn those crisp eight-megapixel images into something faded, crappy, yellow and blurred.
It’s a weird thing for me. I just traded up my phone, and it came with a better camera in the back. I installed one of those filters last night and started snapping old-timey Polaroid shots.
But then, I was looking back at some of the pictures I took with my old phone and the 1.2 megapixel camera it came with. I realized those pictures were virtually indistinguishable from the new hi-def pictures from my new phone , once they’d been run through the filter.
Why do I even need the filter? It doesn’t make logical sense to spend more money to get a better product, then install an app to cripple it somehow. What’s next, a Rotary Dial attachment for when I want to make old-timey phone calls?
What is it about this crystal-clear, crisp edged point-in-time that makes us long for foggy lenses and faded color? Is it a misplaced sense of nostalgia, that faded things are somehow cooler? Or is it simply that our tools have gotten fast and powerful enough to easily duplicate that vintage feel?
I don’t know. I’ll keep the filter on my phone because I do like the effect, but I plan to use it sparingly. I’ll opt for crystal clear more often than not.
Maybe the best thing about nostalgia is that you can turn it off. You can visit the past but you don’t have to stay there.