Meet the Startup Creating a Future for Polaroid

Posted July 13th 2016

3061706-poster-p-1-a-san-francisco-startup-called-polaroidvia Fast Company

When I grab tea with Frederick Blackford at a little corner bar in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, the man behind the counter overhears us talking about Polaroid. And it just puts a smile on his face. Unprompted, he explains to us that the brand that made photography instant is not a relic, but alive, well, and cool.

The tea guy’s instinctive enthusiasm for Polaroid photography as an idea—despite the fact that the company stopped making cameras and film years ago after a long, painful decline—is widespread. But here’s what he doesn’t know: A few yards from his establishment, in basement offices below an organic massage and skin-care spa, Blackford, his cofounder Tommy Stadlen, and a team of 10 have been hard at work building a next-generation Polaroid camera.

This being 2016, their camera is not a piece of hardware in the mold of the SX-70OneStep, and other once-familiar Polaroids of the past. Instead, it’s an iPhone app called Polaroid Swing. The name alludes in part to the Swinger, another best-selling Polaroid camera released 51 years ago this month. But mostly, it references the fact that the images the app lets you shoot—and share in the app as well as via Facebook and Twitter—actually record one second of time as a 60-frame sequence. Swing your phone left and right (or swipe the picture) and you can move back and forth. “The idea is to capture the arc of a moment,” says Stadlen.

Until now, the only Polaroid pictures that ever moved were movies made with 1977’s Polavision system, which bombed. But even though it mostly involved still images, the Polaroid experience was always interactive and intimate. The goal behind Swing’s mini-stories is to use modern technology to recapture some of pleasure of pushing a button, watching an image develop before you, sharing it, and savoring the memory it captures. Which is why the one-second sequences you create with Swing are called . . . Polaroids.