Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

When they discontinue Spectra, you pay more and bow head, because Instax is for kids.  §

It’s now too late—or, I suppose, early—to qualify as “the middle of the night” any longer.

So naturally, I’m going to write. And rather than write about any of the two dozen things I’ve thought (and sometimes sworn) about over the last couple of months without managing to post, instead I’m going to do something else.

I’m going to talk about photography.

— § —

It’s only recently that the following several things have happened:

  • I have developed enough cash flow in my career to be able to consider film photography. I’m not rich, but lots of liquidity equals flexibility.

  • The kids got Fuji Instax cameras for Christmas that turned me on to instant films in a way that I’d never been turned on before.

  • The films of The Impossible Project, given way to Polaroid Originals, have become viable.

© Aron Hsiao / 2019

So naturally, as soon as I get ahold of a Polaroid Spectra ProCam, Polaroid Originals announces the discontinuation of Spectra film.

What are they continuing to make? Stupid shit for influencers, who are apparently now capitalism’s chief natural resource, as everyone is making stuff just for them. In the case of Polaroid Originals, that means:

  • Rechargeable, “Stranger Things” branded 600 format cameras. Vomit.

  • Instant 600 film stock with brightly colored edges in red, blue, green, and yellow. Double vomit.

Generational warfare usually appeals to me as a matter of hating the Boomers, but as I age, it also begins to appeal to me as a matter of hating the Millennials, Gen-Ys, and Gen-Zs/Zoomers. “Influencers” are a key factor driving us toward civilizational decline and hot internecine-intercultural warfare, and they will be first against the wall when the revolution comes, where they will remain insufferable until the bitter end.

But I digress.

— § —

As I’m sitting here reading and re-reading the message announcing the end of Spectra and suggesting that those of us wanting to shoot it buy available stocks while stocks are available, I’m torn between the possibilities of:

  • Stocking up at the $3.00 a frame that it currently costs with film that will be expired and unusable in less than two years (and likely less than one).

  • Replacing my Spectra ProCam with a Fuji Instax Wide 200 or 300 camera and shooting Instax Wide instead (no, I will not shoot 600, never, ever).

  • Just throwing up my hands and going back to 35mm for film play, where things are infinitely less expensive and infinitely less precarious (but also infinitely less interesting).

  • Doing nothing at all, or maybe sticking a thermometer down my throat to evaluate my health as I consider spending $3.00 on individual shots when I have piles of perfectly good digital equipment to give me flawless 40mp+ photos for free.

The thing is, the older I get, the less appeal flawless has for me.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Because of course flawless is what any person over 30 gradually realizes that they are not. And so to venerate the flawless and to reject the flawed is not only to venerate the other and reject the self but also to venerate only the abstract stranger and reject the intimate.

— § —

Flaws are a sore point with me because as much as I’d like to morally categorize them, just like that pat style, I can’t. Because I want to insert some boilerplate here about how we’re all flawed and that’s what makes life worth living, but of course that’s influencer bullshit.

In reality, we’re all flawed and sometimes that’s what makes life hell and in fact threatens our very survival as a species, and at times and in some cases some people and their flaws probably need to be at the very least imprisoned and more pointedly probably marched right off the end of a short plank over a deep bed of nails, needles, and schadenfreude.

But at the same time, if nobody was flawed, that would be just as bad—because perfection isn’t just totalitarian, it’s oxymoronic. The perfect simply isn’t because ontologically and phenomenologically, we’re not configured to appreciate perfection. We are, as Arendt points out, configured for natality, which is at its core a matter of risk. We are risk junkies because of course at some deep, thermodynamic level, we understand that perfection is uniform distribution is static is thermodynamic death.

Always risky action is better than even the most orderly, perfect inaction. Because we don’t like the end of time and the universe any more than we like the ends of ourselves.

So, naturally, digital photos aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They’re great, but they need to be staggered with some truly beautiful shit (the latter meant, oxymoronically, literally in a variety of figurative ways; figurative that out if you can).

— § —

Instax Wide makes a lot more rational sense than does clinging to Spectra. Semiswank camera sub-$100 brand new. Aspect ratio better. Exposure latitude greater. Contrast greater. Color saturation and accuracy greater.

And the big kicker—a sixth the price. Fifty cents a shot, rather than three bucks a shot with Polaroid.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Not to mention that Instax hasn’t been discontinued. And the film is proven rather than a garage workshop experiment in prints that could fade entirely in five years for all anyone knows.

There are a million and one reasons to go Instax.

And they are all negated by one reason to throw money I shouldn’t try to have at Polaroid while it’s still alive.

— § —

And that reason is that the Polaroid shots are beautifully wrong. Beautifully wrong in every way. Completely perfectly imperfect.

While the Instax shots are just… analog.

Analog is fine, as far as it goes, but if you’re not careful, it’s Instax analog is an analog of obsolescence in a way that Polaroid Originals manages not to be.

Instax looks an awful lot like what digital rather successfully replaced.

Polaroid Originals Spectra? Digital can’t replace it, because it’s playing a different game.

  • Not the affordable film game.

  • Not the durable photos game.

  • Not the easy to use game.

  • Not the influencer game.

  • Not the perfect shots game.

What game is it playing?

What indeed.


— § —

You have to peer through a glass darkly, and then try to speak through it, or maybe with it stuffed in your mouth, to try to explain what’s going on with Polaroid Originals Spectra.

What game is it playing?

You see it. You know it. But can you describe it?

It’s playing the game of being: present + itself + enough + imperfectly perceptive.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I want to say that this means that it’s playing the game of being engaged and opinionated, but that makes it sound rather like an influencer.

No, no, no.


Okay, remember Rashomon?

Remember those bull sessions when you get together with your friends (young influencers, you’ll just have to take this one on faith, since you aren’t there yet) and you’re talking about memories that you made twenty or thirty years ago, and you each have a different recollection of the event that you both equally cherish, and you’re both surprised by each others’ recollections because they’re entirely foreign to you, even though they’re about a familiar event?

And this foreign-familiarity isn’t off-putting, but is rather endearing?

In fact, they enrich you, these bullrecollectionsessions in ways that are permanent and evocative of something deeper in life that you can’t articulate yet because (presumably) you aren’t on your death bed or “putting your affairs in order” or whatever?

Yes. That.

That’s what digital doesn’t do.

It’s also what Instax doesn’t do.

And it’s why I’m considering shelling out money that I don’t have and that nobody should spend for a discontinued film format that nobody knows about and that influencers don’t give two shits about.

Actually, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s worth doing just for that latter reason.

Although, that said, if “influencer doesn’t give a shit” starts becoming motivation for me buying things, I’ll be broker than I am faster than I am broke.

— § —

Spectra, I’m sad to see you fade away, day by day.

Life, I’m sad to see you fade away, day by day.


— § —

Final thought in parting.

The problem with digital is that it is uncharitable in its perfection.

It ruthlessly deprives us of the very thing that photography is meant to recall—a past.

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