Tree on the Way Home | Mark Lindsay

In their day, Polaroid Land cameras were stunning. Up to that point in my young life, instant photography was the most enticing innovation I'd ever seen. I received a small Polaroid camera (called the Polaroid Swinger) for Christmas one prepubescent year and wanted to photograph everything with it. The photos weren't all that great, but the immediacy of the results was addictive. I loved everything about it. One would click the shutter, pull out the developing package, count until the processing was complete, pull apart the package a peel off the print. And there it was, a complete photo! I even loved that acrid preservative that one applied to the image afterward. Sticky and oddly pinkish, the preservative came loaded onto a long swab-like applicator that was sealed in a black, plastic cylinder. Applying it at the end was the best part of the whole process.

I was thinking about my Swinger last week when I had to make a round-trip to the photo lab. Today's digital world has replaced the Polaroid and now I see most of my images immediately upon capture—without generating any of the Polaroid waste. But, I still use my 4x5 view camera with traditional film and that means regular trips into San Francisco and its few, remaining photo labs. Spoiled by today's technology, I grumble every time I need to run the errand.

After dropping off my film, my mind immediately jumped ahead the rest of my day's agenda. All that kept me from my studio were about 50 San Francisco traffic signals, ten stop signs, and a bridge or two. Naturally, every traffic signal turned red just as I approached it. I got more impatient with each one.

At traffic light number six I looked out my door window. Through the haze of my crankiness I realized I'd been missing the world. There stood a tiny sapling, still bare from its winter dormancy. It seemed so fragile, so plain, so utterly beautiful. My digital camera beside me, I got off a quick couple of clicks before the signal turned green. Suddenly my trip to the city had become an artist's adventure.

I loaded the image as soon as I got home—as soon as I could. Up came the photo onto my computer screen. At that moment, the whole Polaroid process came back to me again. While the digital world is wonderful, those old memories made we wistful. At that moment I would have loved to run out of the house and make a Polaroid photo, just like I did on that Christmas morning so long ago.