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Passing of Polaroid cameras recalls earlier-era photographic adventures

This week marked the passing of a good friend, one that helped me make more than one deadline in my early career as a reporter, one that allowed me the opportunity to, if not correct mistakes at least to mitigate the damage, and one that, if somewhat south of high class was nonetheless as dependable as a cur dog saved from the pound.

The Polaroid camera is no more. The company recently announced a decision to quit making the instant picture producer.

The first editor/publisher who had the nerve (if questionable judgment) to hire me provided a Smith Corona manual typewriter, a Yashica twin lens camera with flash attachment, and an antique Speed graphic retrofitted with a Polaroid back that permitted us to shoot photos on deadline day without having to wait for the lengthy darkroom process to get a newsworthy picture in print.

We used the Speed graphic/Polaroid as an emergency tool. We printed on Wednesday afternoons and if someone had the audacity to schedule a high-level ribbon-cutting Wednesday morning or if someone made an ill-timed car crash (Wrecks were always good front-page fare.) we pulled out the instant camera, lugged it to the news event, and shot a photo that would appear in that evening's edition of the weekly paper.

I recall reshooting a picture of the local high school beauty queen on a Wednesday morning because the one I had shot earlier with the Yashica featured a telephone pole sticking out the top of her lovely head.

The most memorable shot was a school bus wreck. The photo was grainy as weathered lumber, but we scooped the nearby big-town daily.

I shot a few basketball games with this monstrosity of a camera. The Speed graphic was heavy and dragging it from one end of a basketball court or football field (did that, too) kept me in fighting trim.

The film we used came with tubes of foul-smelling chemicals we had to apply to preserve the photo long enough to make half tones and insert them in the paper.

Photos never measured up to the ones I took with the twin lens camera. But the Polaroid saved the day on many occasions.

I seem to recall buying the family a consumer Polaroid once, although I don't remember why. I had progressed to a nice 35 millimeter by then and was disdainful of the off-color, graininess of Polaroid pictures. But it was quick, and I have to admit enjoying the opportunity to view a picture right after shooting it. We probably still have some of those fading away in an album somewhere.

I suppose the editor of that weekly paper has moved on, too. No doubt computers and digital photography have replaced the Smith Corona and Speed graphic, still allowing any newbie would-be reporter to make mistakes, view the picture and gather up the subjects quickly for a reshoot. Some things never change.

I'd like to believe that I never come home with a picture of a farmer with power lines running through his head, folks glaring into the sun with their eyes closed tightly or, even worse, according to my editorial director, eyes covered by dark sunglasses. Alas, I still make all those mistakes but the digital camera I use now allows me to make corrections on the go, regroup and reshoot.

And it's considerably lighter than the Speed graphic adaptation. And, truth be told, I won't miss the mediocre pictures and tired arms.

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