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Monday, June 22, 2009
In the UK, the impending 'end of analogue' broadcasting is expected to be widely resisted, especially since recent plans brought forward the switch off date to 2015. In the US, all TV broadcasts are now digital, a switch that mattered less in a country with such widespread cable access (via me-fi). But apart from reducing the chance capture of errant signals, plus the crackles, whistles and pops that characterise analogue, what's happening here is the anticipated nostalgia for a lost technology (ham radio sounds).

Nobody really cares about VHS videos any more. Charity shops in Britain struggle to sell films for 50p each. In the UK, Dixons killed the VCR in 2004, while in the US Walmart followed in 2006 (although some reports claimed you could still buy a VHS on the high street in 2009). It's taken barely three years for a device to pass into technological history, implying that the emotional hold of the video cassette was never terribly strong.

But as sites like The Impossible Project attest, certain technologies transcend their obsolesence through being perpetually desirable. The Impossible Project aims for the 're-invention of analog instant film', engineering a 'new analog instant film for Polaroid vintage cameras' to supply professionals and enthusiasts who refuse to give up the fight (NYT article. 'We think it's one of the greatest inventions in the history of photography, because we're tired of tons of boring digital pics that surround as every day,' the new company's PR told us, 'but we love analog things, things you can touch, smell, see, hold in your hands, and things that surprise you. Like Polaroid does.'

Certainly there are a host of Polaroid blogs out there, either devoted entirely to the film and cameras or tangentially cribbing the hazy, memory-soaked aesthetic: Last Days of Polaroid, Peonies and Polaroids, my Polaroid blog, Polapremium and Polanoid. Predictably enough, the Polaroid name has now been attached to a range of micro-printers and digital photo frames (although our prediction that the inevitable camera with integral printer came from Japan, the TOMY Xiao). Polaroid's own PoGo launched in March but doesn't seem to have made much impact.

The loss of these things stings more than mere nostalgia, but why? Polaroid has a noble history, intertwined with commerce and culture. These days, the idea of writing about 'beloved gadgets' is simply an opportunity for a advertiser-pleasing linkfest, rather than a real consideration of why certain things and devices connect so readily, and what the inescapable (rather than cynical) planned obsolesence of contemporary digital devices. The Impossible Project is knowingly named, for the wholescale reconstruction of defunct product works is unprecedented on this scale. But should they succeed, Polaroid will acquire yet another layer of patina on its already overburdened shoulders, a form of image making that carries a serious weight of expectations.

From The Impossible Project: 'Ranging from simple screwdrivers via special spare parts up to 10 giant Integral Film assembly machines, all machinery and tools needed to develop and produce up to 100 million new Integral Instant films per year are present in Building North. Impossible b.v. has purchased the complete production setup in working order (which produced film up to the middle of the year) from Polaroid. All machines are still fully connected and operational. The original total costs of this unique and highly specialized setup today is approx. 100 million EUR.'

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