PolaWalk: Vienna in Eight Clicks
Two Viennese Polaroid camera enthusiasts want visitors to take more away with them than Sachertorte or Mozart ashtrays
Oh no! I looked down in horror at the smelly black paper in my hand. The photo was ruined. "Don’t worry, you still have seven pictures left," said Gilbert Lechner, trying to console me. It didn’t help. I had just ruined my first photograph with the Polaroid camera he had given me half an hour earlier. Instead of opening the camera, I pressed the flash. My first shot – my first mistake. Seven more pictures to go.
We are on a PolaWalk tour through Vienna, guided by Lechner and his partner Thomas Preyer. "Our offer is a unique product", Lechner tells us," – the first guided photo walk with Polaroid cameras in the world!" Yes, there are some groups who walk through cities with the now-legendary analogue cameras, he admits, but none of them is guided nor takes place at a regular time. So this is their niche.
"We want people to take a different kind of souvenir with them than Sachertorte or Mozart ashtrays," they explained, "memories caught by instant print pictures from Vienna."
Saving the instant art
The project was launched in April 2013 with Polaroid workshops. But their fascination began much earlier, in 2010, when Preyer bought his first Polaroid camera. That was when an Austrian company, The Impossible Project, decided to revive instant print photography.
In 2001, Polaroid declared bankruptcy for the first time. They reorganised, and in 2008, the company had to do it again – for the second and last time. Polaroid is dead, long live Polaroid: This might have been the approach of Austrians Florian ‘Doc’ Kaps and André Bosman, who together bought the last factory in the world manufacturing Polaroid instant film.
For them, it was the realisation of an "impossible dream". With a team of former Polaroid employees, they managed to create new instant films for the cameras. And in the process, they infected thousands of people all over the world with their love for Polaroid photography. Lechner and Preyer are just two of them.
We met on the steps of the Karlskirche at 15:30 on a sunny afternoon. "The ‘Impossible’ films are different than the Polaroid ones," Lechner explained. "Instead of 10 pictures, you can take eight." An expensive eight pictures, as one roll of film costs €20. One reason is the battery, which is placed on the film rather than in the camera. "Up until recently, you got about €10 to €15 back when you returned the battery," our tour guide told us – and showed the two of us how to put the film into the camera. Sadly, no longer.
Some seconds later, we were allowed to take our first pictures – on a dummy film at first. "It is important to get to know the camera before heading out on the tour," said Lechner, who took his Polaroid on the Vienna Fotomarathon.
Everything is a little different to what we are used to with our now-normal, digital cameras: The shape of the camera, the angle of the lens, the buttons for "with flash" and "without flash". While my fellow tour participant, Caroline, a professional photographer, was familiar with analogue photography, I could not even remember when I had had any traditional camera in my hands.
If I ever had.
Each picture is precious
It was 16:00, when we started our photo walk through the city, which took us from Karlsplatz through the inner city, passing the Opera, the Albertina, the Parliament, the Votivkirche amongst others, to Schottentor.
"We are not certified city tour guides," Gilbert explained, "but we plan to provide a small booklet with general info about the city soon." Instead, they focus on what they are experts in: Showing people how to use Polaroid cameras.
They take them to the best photo locations, point out the right angles, and help their guests pick their eight pictures of Vienna. This is no simple task – and not only because the results remain a mystery till the end. While the original Polaroid films appeared within 1 or 2 minutes, the new ones take about 20 to 40 minutes to reveal the final picture.
Still, there are benefits. "With instant print photography, almost every picture has it’s charm," fellow PolaWalker Caroline said. After the 2-hour tour, when we lay out the photos we took, I had to agree: Out of my eight pictures, three turned out blurry or too dark – but that just meant the remaining five were all the more precious.
These five clicks of Vienna will get a special place in my home. ÷
PolaWalk tour in English or German:
Max. 6 people tour for 2 hours for €49 (includes rental of a Polaroid camera and a case of film from "The Impossible Project" worth €20 and the pictures). Tour-only tickets, €29.
In bad weather, the tour takes place at Madame Tussauds.