impermanence, part 3

There were alarms, near the end of 2019, but I missed them.  In the winter, I wasn’t paying attention.

In March, everything changed.

I’m referring, of course, to the end of the Polaroid Spectra.  What did you think I was talking about?

By the end of the Spectra, I mean the end of film for it, which is effectively the same thing.  Is it the end of the world?  No.  Does it matter?  Doesn’t everything?

The announcement from Polaroid breaks the news in good-doctor/bad-doctor style.  Oskar Smolokowski (CEO) discreetly nudges the Kleenex box closer.  He is kind.  His heart is heavy.

Since 1986, Spectra has played an important part in Polaroid’s film offering and in the world of analog instant photography. With three decades behind them, these wide format cameras are now coming to the end of their useful lives. Jamming and frequent breakdowns are now affecting the majority of these cameras, and unfortunately, this is not something we can influence with our film.

After extensive testing, we have concluded that we cannot support these cameras any longer. So today, with a heavy heart, we are announcing the end of production for Spectra film.

Andrew Billen (head of global manufacturing) is the surgeon who takes refuge in brusque technicalities, details you didn’t ask for and don’t really understand, when the bottom line is: nothing more can be done.

Our manufacturing team led an intensive, 6-month testing and improvement plan on Spectra cameras and our film. We optimized the dimensions and deflection angle of the ejecting film, reduced the pod weight, and lowered the mask friction through different coatings. We also carried out multiple battery tests with different voltages and currents from different suppliers.

This fault is completely random and depends on many variables with each pack of film and the configuration of the camera circuitry. There is, unfortunately, no simple fix.

But I only just got my Spectra.  It was given to me, after all, in a year beginning with a 2.  That wasn’t so long ago, was it?

It went by so fast.

Michael, addressing the cat.  First pack of film, 2002.


The feeling is something like grief.  Not true grief, I’m not a nut, but . . . regret.  Regret for time wasted, opportunities lost.  The Spectra was a great camera, and I never used it to its full potential.  There are artists like Lisa who strive for beauty in every frame of Polaroid film.  But me, I let it sit unused for months or even a few years on end — and then when I did use it I was prodigal.  The Spectra was my “fun” camera, and as expensive as the film was (in 2002, maybe a dollar a photo; in 2020, between two and three), I never popped it open without feeling, easy come, easy go!  I blew through packs of film at parties, shooting pictures of people I didn’t know —

Never saw them before.  Never seen them since.


— or didn’t know well —

Assorted Czechs.


— merely to put myself at ease and in hopes of people liking me.  Which didn’t work anyway.  I wish I had some of that film back now.

The end of the Spectra should be no surprise.  For the past couple of decades, impermanence has been Polaroid’s stock in trade.  It declared bankruptcy the year before I got my Spectra; the “new” Polaroid did the same six years after.  Then came the ambitious souls at The Impossible Project, who tried very hard to make good film, and in the process instructed us in what the yoga people call abhyāsa and vairāgya.  Perseverance without attachment to the result.

It was much better not to get attached to the result.

One good exposure out of eight.  “Impossible” as in, Impossible to say how your pictures are going to turn out. 


One shot like this: cool.  Every shot like this: not cool.


But over time, the film improved.  I had just started using it more.

Michael, with much more than a cat.  Last pack of film, 2020.


And then it was gone.

Dear Polaroid: I wish to lodge a formal protest.  I protest that my Spectra is practically new.  I protest that my Spectra works just fine, most of the time.  I protest that my Spectra still has so much left to give.

In much the same words will I one day plead with my own Manufacturer.  With much the same success.  Easy come, easy go.


So for the remainder of 2020, year of uncertainty, year of flux, year of impermanence, year of change, I dedicate this space to the Spectra.

(If you like this kind of thing, read Impermanence, and Impermanence, part 2.)