Just about everyone born before 1985 has a Polaroid memory. There was the bulky camera design with its flip-top flash and the little square pictures you shook and shook as the image gradually appeared, ethereal at first, then coming to light—a bit yellowed, but instant. The Polaroid was digital before there was digital, giving photographers instant access to their images. Even Millennials, born in the heart of digital revolution, have a fondness for the old Polaroid, as hipsters tote vintage cameras like a badge of conversation-piece honor.
But Polaroid was a victim of its own making. By giving people a taste for this instant picture-taking gratification, the digital age was sure to come out with something sleeker, faster, crisper and cleaner. And by George, did digital photography change the shape of contemporary life. With pocket-sized point-and-shoots, camera phones that enable just about anyone to become a food blogger and Instagram letting said bloggers share their half-eaten sandwiches with the world—simply put, digital imaging has taken on a life of its own. What’s more, Polaroid slept on the digital-imaging market, attempting to get in the game too late. What resulted was bankruptcy, a resurrection followed by another bankruptcy.
Now, Polaroid is on the brink of reinventing itself, again, this time in our own backyard. Recently announced at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Polaroid has partnered with Fotobar to create an “experiential” retail store for photo processing.
“There are currently around 1.5 billion pictures taken every single day, and that number continues to grow in tandem with the popularity and quality of camera phones,” says Warren Struhl, founder and CEO of Fotobar. But according to Struhl, most of these images stayed locked within a digital domain, shared wirelessly, but never turned into a tangible, displayable medium, mainly because the process is tedious and often expensive. That’s where Fotobar comes in.
What Polaroid Fotobar is doing is nothing new: taking digital imaging stored on a computer, a tablet, a phone or social media platforms like Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and Instagram, and then converting them into something tangible without pixels and a need for electricity. Novel idea, right?
Actually, sort of. Polaroid Fotobar takes a more artisanal approach than established photo labs like CVS or Walgreen. Simply head to a Polaroid Fotobar and wirelessly transmit the photo to a workstation, which acts not only as an ordering platform but also a retouch station, equipped with filters, contrast and brightness control, and other options. Once ordered, printing options run from standards like glossy photo paper and can be framed and matted for professional quality through and through. For the more artistic, options like metal, Lucite, wood, bamboo and canvas make for a unique touch to the image while adding a depth of texture and warmth often unattainable on paper alone. Aspiring photographers can also enlarge their images, making that Instagram snap of the bumblebee on a dandelion a 20-by-20-inch masterpiece.
Polaroid Fotobar’s layout vaguely resembles an Apple Store with a stylized and design-driven look. The Delray Beach location, the company’s first, is set to open in February with a 2,000-square-foot storefront that will act as a model for future locations, 10 of which are slated to open this year. Additionally, the Delray Beach location will have a space dubbed "The Studio,” a multipurpose room deigned to host photography classes, private parties and a studio location for portraiture.
- For more information about Polaroid Fotobar, visit polaroidfotobar.com.