Polaroid Memories-Instant and Enduring Photographs

Circa 1970, Steve and Terry on a

As you can see in this photograph, some winters were extra snowy in upstate New York when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.  That’s my brother Terry and me standing on top of the snowbank with the road sign at waist level.  The family car, a 1964 Pontiac Star Chief (a topic of a Merced Sun Star essay I wrote about five years ago) is parked below.

This is just one of dozens of photographs my Dad took with the Polaroid camera he received as a Christmas gift from my Mom back when I was growing up.Mom rightfully deserves the title of Queen of the Camera in our household, but with her Christmas gift to her husband, we had a King of the Camera for all things Polaroid.

Cameras were originally the domain of professional photographers in the mid to late 1800s.George Eastman’s Kodak cameras took photography to the casual user in the late 1800s.Edwin Land’s invention of the Polaroid in the late 1940s, changed personal photography again by making it possible to see the picture shortly after it was captured by the camera. 

One can only wonder what either inventor would think about today’s imaging processes with digital cameras and cell phones that can take pictures.

Keep in mind that a Polaroid camera, and the capacity to deliver a photograph within sixty seconds of taking the picture, was high tech for the early 1970s.Back then, it seemed as though everyone in the family was impressed at the magic that would come out of that small shoebox sized camera. 

I remember that if black and white film was in the camera, the picture could be treated with some kind of substance that prevented the photo paper from curling.If the more expensive color film was being used, the picture would be mounted on a sticky-back card.

Circa 1970, My Mom and sister Becky celebrate their birthdays together with two cakes.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection
Circa 1970, My Mom and sister Becky celebrate their birthdays together with two cakes. Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

This shot of my Mom and sister Becky celebrating their birthdays was typical of the kinds of pictures taken during my years growing up.Usually on the evening of a birthday, some of our cousins and other family members would join the birthday celebration. 

Neither my Mom nor my sister seemed to mind sharing the spotlight when their birthdays (spaced one day apart) would come around.As you can see from the look on my sister’s face, birthday celebrations were a happy time.

In addition to birthday parties, our family albums were filled with photos documenting holidays, graduations, confirmations, vacations, and other special events.

My parents also took pictures of ordinary events such as a card party in our kitchen or a game of croquet played in our backyard.

When I visit my boyhood home, I take one of several photo albums to the local drug store and scan as many pictures as I can. 

My Dad in front of our camper.  Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection
My Dad in front of our camper. Photo from the Newvine Personal Collection

My Dad let someone else shoot this Polaroid picture of him on vacation in front of our camper trailer.All of our summer vacations during my years growing up involved packing up the trailer, and heading off to one of several State parks for a weekend in the wilderness.

Usually at the beginning and end of the summer school vacation, we’d take the trailer out for a weeklong vacation.Anyone who has done this knows that while it can be a challenge packing for the extended time away from home, setting up the campsite, and then living with one another in close quarters, it could also be a lot of fun. 

At one place in the Adirondacks, Golden Beach State Park in Raquette Lake, several families from my hometown would head out to the campsites during the same week.For that particular vacation, it felt like we were never really away from home with all the family and neighbors who joined us.

Fortunately for me, a lot of those memories live on thanks to the many photographs my Mom took on her Kodak Brownie, and my Dad shot on his Polaroid camera. 

Steve’s 2010 essay on the family Pontiac was included in his book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories.To read that essay and a few others from that book, follow this link and click “Preview” under the cover image: