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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is it like Polaroid film? Better start hoarding

Polaroid, famed for photographic prints that develop within moments, is getting out of the film business.

The company is shutting down two plants in Massachusetts used to make film for professionals and artists this quarter, The Boston Globe reported Friday. A similar plant in Mexico and one in the Netherlands for making consumer film packages will close by the end the year, and the company already has stopped making instant-film cameras, Polaroid said.

The Massachusetts-based company is interested in licensing its film technology to others, but if it doesn't happen, its film will likely run out in 2009. Meanwhile, Polaroid is making a go of selling flat-panel TVs and digital photography.

When Polaroid users pulled a picture out of their cameras, an image would slowly appear before their eyes. Now, like the process in reverse, the image of the Polaroid instant camera -- dimming for years -- has finally gone black.

Polaroid, based in Waltham, Mass., is shutting down factories in the United States and abroad as the company abandons the technology that made the instant photo possible, the Boston Globe reported yesterday. The company will cease production of its film by next year.

The artsy, instantly gratifying Polaroid images, reeking of processing chemicals, have finally been done in by endless Flickr Web pages full of digital images, flawlessly produced by cameras that do not require film, emulsion or anything bigger than a shirt pocket to carry them around.

Polaroid introduced its instant camera in 1948, perfect timing to catch the mad tricycle rides of the first baby boomers, zipping around the new American suburbia. With its finely machined stainless steel body and black bellows, the Polaroid Land Camera looked anything but modern. Its instant film came in roll.

Polaroid moved to cartridge film in 1963 with its 100-series camera, which became a staple of professional photographers. They used the rugged Polaroid to take test photos, instantly checking lighting and composition before committing an image to negative.

But the company's boom and the Polaroid's place in the culture came with the SX-70, introduced in 1972. This groovy camera, with its aluminum and faux-leather body, was perfect for a hedonistic decade that couldn't take enough pictures of itself. They were good times for Polaroid; the company's employment peaked in 1978. A generation later, the Polaroid became a hipster must-have.

Now, it becomes little more than an image in history's digital scrapbook.

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