VPW Guest Blog Series, September 2016: PolaWalk

As our readers will know, this summer I launched a project called “VPW Guest Blog Series”, in which I invite local talent to come in every month and tell us about their work, presenting their latest projects. So far I have featured photographer Hongwei Tang and blogger Secret Vienna, both of whom took the time to describe their creative processes in their own words. Our September issue, while falling under the category of “Guest Blog” is, in fact, written by yours truly. But since PolaWalk invited me to explore their world with them, thereby making me their guest, I think it qualifies!

I first heard about PolaWalk a few months ago, via Instagram, from a friend who has just discovered them and embraced the ‘power of Pola’. PolaWalk stands for ‘Polaroid Walk’ and is – you guessed it – a company that specializes in guided Polaroid Photo Walks. I never used a polaroid camera in my life (though, obviously, I did covet the SpiceCam back in the early 90’s; what little girl didn’t?!) so I had my heart set on interviewing these guys about their work, to find out what it was all about. They exceeded my expectations by inviting me along on a tour where I was able to get first-hand answers to all my questions. I hope you enjoy reading about PolaWalk, and find yourselves curious enough to give them a try! There is a special discount code for members of VPW, please scroll to the end of the article to obtain it.



© Ally Novgorodtseva

The Company PolaWalk was founded by Gilbert Lechner and Thomas Preyer in 2013, with the intention of empower others with the tools to capture unforgettable moments. That same year, in July, they successfully launched the world’s first Polaroid Photo Tour, making them true pioneers of the organized photo walk business. Unlike our own walks, where all cameras are welcome, PolaWalk (while, of course, allowing you to take other pictures with your DSLR, smartphone, etc.) focus on the polaroid as their principal photographic tool. Since first launching commercial and private tours in Vienna, they have since branched out to offer similar activities in Graz (Austria) and Warsaw (Poland).

How did the founders of PolaWalk come up with such an unusual idea? The story goes like this:

Thomas started shooting with Polaroid cameras back in 2010 when Polaroid discontinued the production of their instant film, and “The Impossible Project” started with the production of new film for the millions of still existing and mostly functioning instant cameras. He quickly discovered that starting out with instant-photography was not as easy as one might think. It was a cumbersome process: where do I buy a camera, what film do I need and how does it work? A lot of first-time users lost interest after being frustrated with the results they were getting. He thought, that most of the problems they encountered could have been avoided if they could’ve just had access to crucial information and hands-on tips. As a result, Thomas started offering workshops; his co-founder Gilbert (whom he knew from a start-up event) attended one of the first workshops. They discovered, that while learning about the technical aspects and theoretical tips was crucial, the part that brought the most joy to the attendees were the photo walks at the end of the workshops. After seeing Thomas’ vacation Polaroids the idea for PolaWalk was born: a city to explore, a local photo guide, and a Polaroid camera to create unique souvenirs that one can take home with.

PolaWalk is a passion project for both Lechner and Preyer, and this passionate, positive energy translates into the personalized, friendly tours their company offers. In Vienna alone PolaWalk offers four different tours: Classic, Urban Street Art, Prater, and Schönbrunn. Generously given the opportunity to pick out a date and tour to go on, I requested the Classic Tour: I couldn’t wait to see what Vienna’s most iconic sites (which, let’s face it, have not changed much in the last 150 years) would look like as Polaroid snaps! I confirmed my tour date with Thomas, and was sent a neat, thorough confirmation email, detailing everything I needed to know: date, meeting time, meeting place, itinerary, materials pack, and much more. I got to our meeting place, the Karlskirche, half an hour early (eager much?) and enjoyed a quiet coffee and Briochekipferl on the steps before everyone else arrived.

Our guide, Maria, showed up on time and equipment in hand: polaroid cameras and film for members of our group, and lots of example polaroid snaps for the short theory lesson at the beginning. Briefly introducing the company, Maria told us about the history of the Polaroid camera and its film, the basic techniques necessary to produce quality photos, and the hacks to play around with in order to achieve different creative effects. After trying out a few snaps with blank film, to familiarize ourselves with all the buttons and master the process of taking photos out of the camera without leaving your fingerprints all over it, we were on our feet and headed towards the city center.

While PolaWalk tours include the services of a guide, if it’s a history-and-fact-filled tour you are looking for, this isn’t it; your guide is not a professional tourist guide, but a photography guide. Maria Harms, for example, is a professional photographer specializing in lifestyle and product photography; she loves detail and has a great eye for composition. As we walked through the city, she often gave us tips about not only about what works well in a polaroid snap (for example, the colour gold, or sweeping lines), but about the rules of composition in general, and encouraged us to play around with different viewpoints and angles.



© Ally Novgorodtseva

As this is not your typical guided tour, the pace and itinerary of it, too, are very fluid: there are several main points of interest along the Classic Tour (Karlskirche, Staatsoper, Palmenhaus, Parlament and Rathaus, to name but a few), but our little group took several small detours, lingering in places of special interest, to photograph subjects we were most drawn to.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Polaroid photography for anyone coming from a background of digital, or event traditional film photography, is the number of shots you get with one cassette of Polaroid film: eight. That’s it. You have a 150-minute tour, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and you only have 8 shots at documenting it. In an age where the value of any single image is infinitely diminished because we know there is virtually no limit to the number of photos we can take on any given vacation, event, or even regular photo shoot, photo-rationing is hard. It was, for me, the most challenging aspect of Polaroid photography. The good news is that challenging is not necessarily bad. As with gourmet food or a fine wine, you don’t swallow it whole or down it in one shot – you savour it, consider and study its form and texture, and reflect on the feelings you are left with once you are done. Having taken my 8 shots, I can say that I was, of course, not happy with all of them. But, a couple of them I really loved, and the thought process and deliberation that went into each and every one of them was undeniably satisfying and humbling.



© Ally Novgorodtseva

I enjoyed my tour with PolaWalk immensely; I loved seeing Vienna through a “new lens”, discovering a new medium with fellow Polaroid-newbies, and appreciated all the challenges that came with the different camera.

I urge you to give it a try – it’s an exciting experience! PolaWalks has very kindly offered members of Vienna Photo Walk a -10% promo discount code of tour bookings; you have until October 31, 2016 to make use of it by mentioning the code “vpw10” upon booking.

For infirmation about tours, prices, and booking please visit www.polawalk.com
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