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Polaroid printer lets Gen Z ‘witness me’

Polaroid printer lets Gen Z ‘witness me’

Polaroid was the Apple of its time.
Polaroid printer lets Gen Z ‘witness me’
Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera in 1972.
Photographer: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

In a summer cleaning frenzy, Daughter No. 1 unearthed a Polaroid camera that I recall being pulled out for family Christmases decades ago, instantly printing small black and white (and later color) photos of a youthful me posing with gifts.

To the inevitable “What do we do with it?” query, I had no answer, assuming the camera, like its namesake manufacturer, was just a relic from another era.

But I was wrong. Polaroid, the company, survives, not as the prolific inventor it once was but as an international licensor with products ranging from cellphones (a top pick in France) to TVs to, yes, cameras and accessories.

Polaroid Corp. was founded in Boston in the 1930s by Harvard dropout Edwin Land to research and produce synthetic polarizers, or optical filters for light. A decade later, he demonstrated the first camera using the technology to produce finished photographs in a minute.

The company was the Apple of its time and Land was its Steve Jobs, Polaroid historians say, comparing the two men’s love of product design and innovation. Eventually, though, Polaroid’s products failed to keep pace with developing technologies and consumer tastes, and the company fi led for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Another Chapter 11 followed a few years later.

Polaroid emerged from the second in 2009 as a holding of Gordon Bros. and Hilco Consumer Capital, both of which specialize in rescuing companies with marketable brands and intellectual property.

Polaroid exited manufacturing and began putting its name on the carefully chosen products of others, CEO Scott Hardy told Forbes magazine last year. He described the company’s role now as “curators of innovation.”

The change caught the eye of one of Minnesota’s wealthiest families, whose investment arm bought a majority stake in the company a year ago, ensuring “the ongoing resurgence of our iconic American brand,” Polaroid said. (The company has been Minneapolis-based since emerging from the first bankruptcy.)

Polaroid’s name still is on instant cameras, but has been added, too, to tiny sports video cameras and mobile photo printers for smartphones.

Hardy told Forbes he saw promise in the latter with Generations Y and Z, who will find “magic” in turning their selfies into physical photos.

That rang true to Elizabeth Talerman, who helped Mohawk Fine Paper in Cohoes redefine its brand in 2010 and now sits on its board.

Since Millennials and Gen Z live their lives so much online, physical photos can offer them “a new form of ‘witnessing me,’” she said.

“Polaroid gives them a way to have a visual archive of themselves,” a reminder that “I live in the physical world,” said Talerman, CEO of Nucleus Branding in Brooklyn.

The cameras resonate with older consumers, too, with whom the younger generations look to “connect up with” on brands and music they’re nostalgic about.

Besides, she said, “it’s fun to see something develop before your eyes.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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