Earlier this year I interviewed Impossible Project Co-founder Florean Kaps for my article in Now Then Magazine about rise of analogue media and the business opportunities it presents to those with vision and commitment to a project.
“We see our products creating and forming a unique niche market for passionate people, who choose our products besides everything the digital market is offering them.” Florean Kaps, Impossible Project co-founder.
Its snapshot heritage is steeped in the nostalgia of the coffee table photo album, its square edges capturing the faded sepia tones of childhood and the painterly sun-drenched landscapes of winding road trips. The instant clunk and wind of a Polaroid camera, a sturdy and mechanical action reassuring in its weighty process, will be warmly familiar to many. The tool of the day-tripper, artist and designer alike, the Polaroid camera and its instant film opened up a whole new world of photography to anyone who could afford it. Launched in 1948, this pioneering format revolutionised photography, flying high and seemingly triumphant. But of course the photographic revolution did not end with the development of instant film and with the advance of digital imaging Polaroid found their position to be shifting. Technologically savvy customers could now dispense with the need for the comparatively expensive Polaroid film and print their images at home.
So it seemed the end of instant film was in sight. After a number of turbulent years, Polaroid announced in 2008 that it would cease production of its film and close its last plant in Enschede, the Netherlands. And there the story would have ended were it not for the insight of two of Polaroid’s closest allies.
Enter Florean Kaps and Andre Bosman, founders of The Impossible Project. Florean, a leading manager of the Lomographic Society credited with developing their worldwide online community and shopping platform, and Andre, an engineering manager who had been with Polaroid since 1980, came together at the closing event of the Polaroid factory in Enschede. While others were toasting the end of an era the two entrepreneurs were developing plans to breathe new life into a product that had seemingly been left for dead.
As a large-scale Polaroid production unit the original factory, capable of manufacturing anything up to ten million film packs a year and supporting 5,000 members of staff, could not sustain itself within the now much smaller marketplace. By shrinking output and redesigning production processes The Impossible Project team could create a new, viable and sustainable business model set to cater for the dedicated consumer group that had become loyal users of the product. It was with this vision that they managed to secure a capital investment of €2 million to re-establish the business.
Fast forward to 2011 and contrary to first impressions The Impossible Project is not a story of nostalgic renaissance, but a testament to the foresight of its business savvy founders. The analogue market is a booming niche. From vinyl records to the shelves of the indie bookstore, consumers are regrouping from the scatter shot effect created by the internet – a place where unlimited access has made every aspect of life ripe for digital pixilation, all content and form transplanted into a binary simulation.
There is an evolution happening that is creating symbiotic communities in which the internet provides a forum for exchanging stories and ideas that are firmly grounded in the physical, and it’s here that Florean sees potential: “The digital elements allowed us in the very beginning to create and reach out to a dedicated worldwide community that we started building in 2005 on Polanoid.net as the first Polaroid-only online picture community and Unsaleable.com, the very first online shop for analogue instant film only. Next year TIP will finally present some Impossible tools that for the very first time will further merge and connect the most analogue material in photography with the needs and expectations of modern digital users.”
In a world previously dominated by the consumptive experience, people are looking for experiential connection with the products they choose to buy. These one-off originals created on Impossible Project film elevate the everyday camera into an object of art creation. The exclusivity of these single frame productions makes this a tool far removed from the continuously winking eye of the digital camera.
“We see our products creating and forming a unique niche market for passionate people, who choose our products besides everything the digital market is offering them. Just as vinyl speaks to a dedicated crowd of music fans, the Impossible products speak to a dedicated crowd of photography fans. Impossible is made for everybody who is interested in real photography and who is in love with real pictures,” Florean adds.
The Impossible Project illustrates how there is plenty of room in the marketplace for both digital and analogue. Moreover, there is a wealth of opportunity in niche and specialist markets for those who clearly understand their customer. Florean and Andre seem perfectly placed to take on and transform the heritage of instant film, both possessing a deep product knowledge and understanding of its loyal followers.
It will be interesting to see how new Impossible products and services go on to shape and support this community’s growing connectivity. For now it’s reassuring to see that with passion and a clear vision business ideas can be reborn and creativity can once again develop in the palm of your hand.
For the full article and images head over to Now Then
Continuing to share things that have been inspiring me and informing my research recently. Heres a video compiled of time lapse sequences of photographs taken with a special low-light 4K-camera by the crew of expedition 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from August to October, 2011.
It really doesn’t need any more words than that really. Enjoy.
Crowdsourcing and mapping. There have been some incredible open access crowdsourced mapping projects happening recently, which take data from public sources and willing participants to create useful and interactive ways to share information. From Aid organisations to artists programmers the humble map has now become an inventive and sometimes radical tool in the arsenal of community focused users.
Some interesting projects that have caught my eye include What Was There a social history project where users upload personal images and map the events and stories which happen within their towns and cities. On a larger scale RDTN.org is interactive map documenting radiation levels across Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. The project pulls information from the The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the and the US Environmental Protection Agency along with citizen updated radiation level readings (geiger counter anyone?) to produce an accurate, multi source map that is being constantly updated.
The key to the success of these projects is local participation. On its own, one persons story on What Was There is a whimsical online diary. Collated with thousands of other stories a picture begins to emerge of time and place, and connects people to events in ways previously confined to personal networks and happen chance conversations in the local cafe.
Starting local - Crate Space mapping. Starting off as a small weekend project and inspired by usefulness of these tools I built the Crate Space wifi map to fill a gap, having just purchased a new shiny laptop I had nested myself into one of the only places in Sheffield I new to have wifi The showroom Cinema. I often have client meeting in there and see familiar faces dropping in to do the same or to pull out their laptops to do an hours work. I did some research on how I could find out where the wifi and business friendly hotspots are in Sheffield and saw there was no one reliable and up to date source of information. So I set about creating one.
Cratespace.co is in Beta and getting good feedback, live for only a couple of weeks the project has sparked lots of interesting conversation both here at Huella and in the wider community about collaborative working and how we could build on the map to include local hot desk and resource sharing projects, ultimately connecting and opening out Sheffield’s hubs to meet, work, connect and create.
A brilliant idea. 1% of Nothing. So simple its scary. Encourageing philanthropy in business from day one, 1% of Nothing connects startups and founders to causes to which they can donate 1% of their equity. If and when that company gets acquired, goes public, etc., that equity then turns into cash for that cause, instantly. The idea was hought up by Matt Galligan and Shervin Pishevar after strolling into the wrong talk at a conference, a serendipitous story which can read here on their site.
The reason I get excited about projects like this is because they ignore old models and change the way we think about doing business. The quietly understood mantra of old is to ‘get yours before you give back’ here people are encouraged to think about giving from the outset, where the connection to the cause can be promoted whilst entrepreneurs are busy working on the success of their businesses.
This model is adaptable and ripe for interpretation across all types of business. You don’t have to be a highly financed start up to embed creative philanthropy into your business model. In 2010 my company Wanderlust – the home for Huella and its spin of projects gave 50% of all revenue from the sale of our Earth Prints in the Wandelrust Gallery to Medicines San Frontiers. Established Sheffield based smart geek company Technophobia have this month launched their Technophobeer beer working with the Blue Beer Brewery to raise funds for Movember. The (i’m told!) fine ale can be bought at the Rutland Arms here in Sheffield, pop down and grab a pint and maybe chat to the locals about the creative ways you are going to give something back through your business.
With over 7 million hits this 2006 TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson has struck a cord with people the world over. The topic is EDUCATION and the stake couldn’t be higher. Here Sir Ken talks about the importance of creativity in our schools, the smart people understand that its through creativity that our passions and in tern our businesses can flourish. Now I work with a lot of business people who get very nervous about the word ‘creativity’ they like the word ‘innovation’ but seem bemused at the thought that innovations have to come from somewhere other than a 5 minute monday morning feedback session after the yawn stiffling 2 hour management meeting.
In short creativity is still seen by many as ‘other’ as the provision of the artists and people in the marketing department. Sounds like an old school stereotype but unfortunately its not. I am lucky enough to work with a number of talented and passionate creative individuals who run dynamic and innovative small companies, but I am aware that this is a bubble. A bubble that sits next to other bubbles like traditional manufacturing or large sections of the service industry for example.
We (the creatives) see a bright 2.0 future where self actualised people design world changing products and services, constantly creating new ways to reinvent old means, fearlessly pushing at boundaries and dreaming up ways to connect and share and co-operate. This is the new economy and its not neccisealy based on economics. The new economy is based on ideas and this is scary for world 1.0, the old world of manufacturing and production lines, of cold calling and shoddy service design.
The reason its scary is because world 1.0 doesn’t understand creativity. It doesn’t understand autonomy and the power of individuals to dream of better ways of doing things. So how do we change this? We EDUCATE. We educate our children not to be autobots churning out algebra, or to be equipped with only enough skills to change to till roll in a cash desk. We need to educate our children to dream and to play, to try out ideas and test their skills for imagining and to do it all over again when things don’t work out.
Creativity is not ‘other’ it is I. Fear of failure and strict codes of conformity in our schools and workplaces have left us with a deficit of bright, willing and creative thinkers. I feel very privileged to consider myself a creative, but it really shouldn’t be one.