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As Polaroid Remains in Limbo, an Elegy for Instant Photography

dead polaroid.jpgBeleaguered Polaroid, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last December, is finding that selling its assets is anything but instant. Its latest proposed sale—for $56.3 million to two liquidation firms—was nixed in bankruptcy court yesterday after a rival bidder filed papers requesting that the auction be reopened—again. Private equity firm Patriarch Partners, which was previously chosen to buy Polaroid before a snafu derailed the deal last month, requested the chance to up its offer, which it argues is better because it’s not a brand-devaluing liquidation scheme that would fire Polaroid employees and halt innovation at the 72-year-old company. Another auction is set for Thursday.

(Photo: Ritchard Ton. See more of his work on Flickr.)

Meanwhile, longtime Polaroid fans such as artist Chuck Close and photographer Elsa Dorfman are still coming to grips with last year’s announcement that Polaroid was discontinuing almost all of its instant film products. In creating the giant, soulful painted portraits for which he is best known, Close often works from photographs taken by the 20×24 Polaroid camera that he began using in the ’70s. “There’s so much more information embedded in it than can be seen with the naked eye—unbelievable detail and a real physicality,” he told Art & Antiques recently. “It is a unique product.” And a tricky one. Artist and photographer John Reuter describes instant photography as “part-miracle and part-voodoo, besides science. A lot can influence it and make it go wrong.”

For those who mourn the imminent loss of the ability to shake it like a Polaroid picture, there is a glimmer of hope:

Florian Kaps, an Austrian Polaroid enthusiast who founded Polanoir, a gallery of contemporary Polaroid images, announced [in January] that he has signed a 10-year lease on Polaroid’s former factory in Enschede, Netherlands, and purchased its equipment. He has also secured several million dollars in private funding and hired 11 European ex-Polaroid employees to research and develop a new instant film that will work in what Polaroid called its “integral” cameras—those that accept instant films that do not require a peel-away sheet. Kaps calls the effort The Impossible Project. “To be honest, I don’t exactly know if it makes sense. Like the name says, it’s almost an impossible task,” he says. “But we think it makes sense to fight for the small chance to keep the medium alive. We have one year of financing for the team to find out if it’s possible.”

Previously on UnBeige:

  • Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture, While You Still Can
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