The Big Picture


I’ve been reading Peter Buse’s The Camera Does The Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. It’s the kind of pop history I like, full of nice crunchy little facts sprinkled into paragraphs about the cultural context and implications of making pictures easy. And then quotes from old Polaroid sales copy about how they should encourage customers to make friends at the beach by taking pictures of strangers and giving them the prints. I think that’s a fine idea sure to work right up to the point you get punched. But until then it’s going to do great. Granted most stuff works great if you omit the part where you get punched.

Buse also reveals to me that in the 70s Polaroid made a version of its self-developing film big enough to make prints 20 inches by 24 inches big. The camera weighed over 230 pounds. The film rolls were 150 feet long. And I’m a little sad I can’t talk about this without it sounding like a bit. I can imagine a comedy podcast having the inspiration of “really, really big Polaroid camera” and making five minutes of jokes about it. It’s almost certainly The Flop House. You couldn’t just wheel the camera around and take snapshots, you had to make an appointment to use it. See? Literal facts about it sound like some Bob Newhart thing. Ansel Adams took Jimmy Carter’s portrait in office using it. Again, it sounds like I am being all goofy.

So let me reassure you this isn’t a fun bit of whimsy by pointing out, thanks to a friend, the 20 x 24 Studio’s official web site. It’s got explanations of the camera system and why it’s there and what it’s like and also that it’s closing down in 2017 because it’s so hard to get really large Polaroid film stock anymore. And now I will receive your thanks for bringing to your attention this imagination-capturing whimsy alongside the news that it’s even more imminently doomed than most of us area.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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