Two entrepreneurial Austrian friends have rescued attic-stashed Polaroids and started up a walking tour with a twist

Thomas Preyer bought his first Polaroid camera four years ago, inspired by a snap from instant photography artist Dash Snow. Two years later his friend and business partner, Gilbert Lechner, was admiring some of Preyer's holiday Polaroids from a jaunt in Bucharest and a light bulb went off. PolaWalk, a walking-tour-come-Polaroid-lesson that will have you rushing to resurrect your old camera, was born.

Harvard dropout Edwin Land invented the Polaroid camera in 1947, revolutionising photography and offering, for the first time, instantaneous development. It held a market monopoly in the 60s and 70s but, in the 90s, its popularity began to dwindle.

Faced with imminent death by digital camera, and forecasting a massive drop in sales, Polaroid ordered a 10-year stock of film in 2004. However, they massively underestimated the market and supply ran out in 2008, six years earlier than expected. There were other problems; most components of Polaroid film were no longer allowed to be used or had disappeared, and the company eventually went bankrupt. It sold off its machinery, holding a "demolition" party at their Dutch factory in Enschede.

Advertisement

Luckily, Austrian photographer Florian "Doc" Kaps attended the party. He and Dutch co-founder Andre Bosman decided they would attempt the improbable: reproduce instant film by replacing the lost or banned film ingredients, a task that, Polaroid told them, was impossible.

The pair saved the former factory's manufacturing machines from the scrap heap at the 11th hour (they decided on Friday, and the machines were due to be destroyed on Monday), pilfered 10 former Polaroid staff and set up an Austrian-owned, instant film factory in Enschede.

In 2010, the aptly name Impossible Project released their black and white film, colour followed. The company is one of very few manufacturers of instant film for analogue cameras, saving more than 200 million Polaroid cameras from obsolescence.

Preyer owns 10 Polaroid cameras and PolaWalk has a collection of around 80, mainly of the box-type camera popular in the 80s and 90s, which the pair have collected online and restored to their former glory.

Without the endless memory of a digital camera, each photograph must be carefully considered and composed; there's no automatic setting.

Struggling to remember the basics of 6th form photography? The tour begins with the basics and an opportunity to "test drive" our cameras before we hit the streets, cameras in hand.

Group size ranges from one to six people and tours from two to three hours. There are several options: walk the historic Ringstrasse area or take the Urban & Creative tour, showcasing Vienna's best galleries and street art.

Some are limited tours with a seasonal twist, such as the successful Yule tours they ran over the Christmas period last year.

You can even choose your own — their typography tours, on which punters scramble up ladders to shoot close-ups of fonts around town, are popular with a local university professor and his class of graphic design students.

Ours took us through the hip museum quarter, home to more than 60 institutions, galleries and shops including the Museum of Modern Art. Through the street-art covered, ivy-draped, cobbled streets of Spittelberg, the uber-chic quarter revitalised by the artists that shacked up in the former red-light district, are galleries, craft and jewellery shops and small organic stores.

I focused on the finer, poetic details of the city. A pink bike tucked in a bush of red roses, street art covering a dilapidated building with rotting windowsills; a mint-green, Art Nouveau-style staircase winding down to the Naschmarkt; an elderly Austrian couple toasting the afternoon sunshine with a glass of wine from their balcony and freshly made pasta on sale at the market.

Half of the fun is spreading out photos at the end and, over a cup of tea, seeing which details other eyes captured.

I walked away with instant souvenirs, not poorly shot city scenes that gather e-dust on a forgotten hard drive.

The sole drawback is that there are just eight photos but, then again, this digital-camera-free excuse to amble through the streets, slowly drinking in the sights of Vienna is part of what makes the experience feel like I have really seen the city, not just photographed it.

Top tips for Polaroid perfection

Look for contrasts.

Choose strong colours.

If you see something you like, take a picture. Don't save shots for later.

Go closer! There's no zoom so use your feet.

Put your subject in perspective — use people, chairs, trees and statues.

Try to balance the light; using shadows and strong light in the picture confuses the camera's light meter.

Take pictures "with" the light, not "against" the light.

CHECKLIST

Getting there:

offers fares from Auckland to Vienna.

Further information: See polawalk.com.

The writer travelled as a guest of the Vienna Tourist Board and Cathay Pacific.