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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There where the lens is wide


So, to summarize, I’d like everyone to know that I do too know how to take a picture on a digital camera. I don’t want to brag, but I have noticed how every digital camera in the world has a little button on the top that you press to take the picture. I’d got this worked out pretty well sometime in like 1978 when I first heard of the idea of taking pictures with anything more advanced than taping the newspaper photograph up to the window so I could trace over it on some paper.

And yes there were too digital cameras back then, models with up to four pixels and the ability to differentiate between one shade of grey and another slightly identical shade of grey, producing photographs that could be shared on the primitive Internet just by running a simple UUencode filter on the file type, then copying it into your e-mail client, which was horrible, and then waiting twenty minutes to find out that your Internet connection died halfway through, and then running down the hall to the recipient and slapping him for wanting to see a picture of this. The point is, every digital camera in the world works by having a button on the top that you press.

Yeah I know cell phones don’t take pictures like that. And I know with iPads you take pictures by standing there holding the iPad up until everyone around you notices how awkward you look and feels bad that you have to do something so embarrassing, and that finally triggers the shame sensors that puts you out of your misery by taking the photo already. Those don’t count. I’m talking about cameras, the kind made of fresh-mined cameraonium ore, and with icons on the side showing that little lightning bolt and the flower representing the climax of Eadweard Muybridge’s vision of a day when the average person could have flowers electrocuted.

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