Ceci n’est pas une Polaroid.

This is not a Polaroid.


In art school, we were taught about the important distinction between words, images and objects by Magritte’s Treachery of Images.

Just as photojournalists commit themselves to accurate depictions of events, in discussing photography, accurate vocabulary is also critical.  Just as edited images can convey falsehoods, incorrect and inaccurate words can lead to incorrect and inaccurate perceptions.  My social sciences professor in college often said “things are what we say about them in our social world.”

Sprung from lack of knowledge or lack of care, it has become all too common for all Instant Film products, regardless of manufacturer, to be referred to as “Polaroid”, sometimes doggedly, even by those who know better.

In fact, if you type “Polaroid” into your favorite search engine, or online marketplace, among the top results are Fuji Instax products.  A few weeks ago, I attempted to research any photographers who are still using original, expired Polaroid film and was unable to find any (aside from the 20×24 guys).  Not, I think, because nobody is, but because the search results, no matter how well-filtered, were clogged with Instagram, Instax, Impossible film images and articles.

Recently, in a discussion with an Instant Film photographer with a sizable following, she justified her consistent use of the word “Polaroid” by citing Google and Amazon as authorities on correct terminology.  This kind of logic rings similar to “alternative facts” if you ask me.

A Real Scan of a Real Polaroid 600 Image of Real Polaroid 600 Images

We all know that Polaroid invented Instant Film and their name will forever be associated with it.  But what many newcomers to this fun format may not know is that Polaroid, the American company, has not made a single fresh pack of film or film camera since about 2007, exactly a decade ago.

Yet people keep calling Fuji Instax and Impossible Project products “Polaroid”.

This behavior is nothing new.  It has also been common in the past to call a tissue “Kleenex” or a paper copy “Xerox”or a big rig a “Mac truck”.  We tend to associate products with their original or most known manufacturer.

A Scan of an Instax Wide Image of a Polaroid Camera and Fuji Peel Apart Instant Film

I think it’s about time that we begin speaking correctly about Instant Film though.  It may seem like a little thing but I feel that this incorrect language is contributing to a lack of understanding and proliferation of misconceptions about Instant Film itself.  A few things I’ve noticed when people talk about Instant Film:

–Sheets of Instant Film are often referred to as “Paper” and containing “Ink”, and that the camera “prints” these images.  I think that if we called Instant Film, “Instant Film”, we would then convey that there is no ink printed on paper.

–There is a lack of distinction between Peel Apart Instant Film and Integral Instant Film.  Even a lack of distinction between Instant Film and Zink!  Why?  Because when someone just calls everything “Polaroid”, instead of calling it what it actually is, well, to the hammer, even screws resemble nails, right?

–There is a lack of distinction between manufacturers, thus it can be difficult to understand what item someone is even talking about!  Just to clear the air, here are all the major current and in-use Instant Film product manufacturers: Polaroid, Fuji aka Fujifilm, Impossible Project, MiNT, Lomo, New55, and NPC.

To simply call anything related to Instant Film “Polaroid”, we are also doing a great disservice to those interested in learning about Instant Film by making things unnecessarily confusing.  We are also negating the value and authority of other companies and their products, not giving them the respect they deserve for maintaining, and in some cases, reviving Instant Film after Polaroid abandoned it.

Let’s be honest about history.  Let’s call a horse and horse.  And an Impossible Project photo of a horse, an Impossible Project photo of a horse!

Magritte would be proud!

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4 thoughts on “Ceci n’est pas une Polaroid.

  1. I’m not ok with calling an Instax print a Polaroid, but I don’t wince when someone calls a print on Impossible Project film/paper a Polaroid because at least it was shot with a Polaroid camera. (Unless it’s on the I-Type.) Maybe the better term is “Polaroid process” in that case?


    1. That’s a fair point Jim! Of course, there is no paper involved in Integral Instant Film though, which is one of my comments above. I think that when we call these things by brand names, instead of saying exactly what they are, we lose technical accuracy and it affects our and/or others’ understanding of Instant Film. Thanks for reading!


  2. I’m not a grammar nazy but…

    One does not say:
    “ceci n’est pas une polaroid”
    “ceci n’est pas un polaroid”

    Objects, concepts etc have a gender in the French language: we don’t have an equivalent for “it”, so it’s either a “he” or a “she”. A “pipe” is feminine, so “une”, but a (generic instant film term, not brand) “pola”, has we casually say, is masculine (both the camera and the shot), so that’s “un”.

    This is probably the worst difficulties of French for non-Latin rooted foreign speakers, since it can take years to memorize the gender of each and every thing. Oh well, that’s also the most charming and funny mistakes English native speakers do, with the confusion between the casual “tu” and the formal “vous” (we don’t have a neutral “you”).

    And the bise. Of course.


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