Instant memories - The Magazine 

Tekst: Maarten Muns


The photographer and I ride up in a large and noisy elevator. Our chaperone points to the photographer’s camera. “You should use a Polaroid camera in this building,” she says. “This is still an old-fashioned digital one,” I reply. She smiles and repeats my words softly and slowly. “An ‘old-fashioned’ digital camera. That’s funny.”

In Enschede, a town on Holland’s eastern border with Germany, factories churned out textiles and other products from the early 19th century until the 1970s, when the last shut down due to competition from Asia. The Polaroid film factory was a late arrival, built in 1965 and shuttered by the firm in 2008. But a brightly colored phoenix rose almost immediately from the ashes, and the plant brims with energy today. As digital photography and digital photo printing became increasingly affordable, demand for Polaroid film plummeted. The firm filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and the new entity that bought its assets decided in 2004 that instant film’s future was dim. It stockpiled what it thought was enough chemicals to meet demand for new film for a decade, and dismantled its ability to make more. Film sold faster than expected, depleting reserves. Meanwhile, the new Polaroid began closing its factories as it tried to shift to putting its name on and making digital products. It stopped making instant cameras first, then film. The new Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2008. That would have seemed to be the end for Polaroid film, even as the company assets were sold again and the name slapped on unrelated digital cameras and other products. The knowledge of thousands of workers across many decades was scattered. But the Enschede plant’s closure contained the seeds of the return of an instant film, lacking just the Polaroid name.

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