John Eric Muñoz ('12) hasn't forgotten the bulky Polaroid 600 camera that his family used throughout his youth to capture snapshots of their life.
The green, clamshell-style camera was one of the "uglier models" made by the company, he says. Luckily, that didn't hinder it from producing the unmistakable white-bordered, square photos that, with the push of an oversized yellow plastic button, slid from a slot on its front and (likely following a few shakes) developed within moments.
"The photo albums in my family were mostly filled with Polaroids," says Muñoz, who earned a history degree at UNT. He is now the administrative coordinator at the UNT CoLab, the art gallery, boutique and event venue just off Denton's downtown square that's run through the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism.
Muñoz also is one of four UNT alumni who sit on the board of the nonprofit Instant Film Society (IFS).
Co-founded in 2012 by UNT alumnus Daniel Rodrigue ('08, '10 M.J.), a photojournalism professor at the Dallas College Brookhaven Campus, the organization was established with the goal of increasing awareness, accessibility and understanding of instant film analog photography.
Its regularly scheduled meetups, photo walks or "PolaWalks," workshops and larger events are attended by amateur and professional photographers and others who are curious about the photography style and its equipment that was wildly popular decades ago.
In 2016, the organization launched PolaCon, the world's first three-day convention dedicated to all things instant photography, which was attended by 80 people. In 2022, the event drew 300 attendees or "Polaroiders" from around the nation and beyond.
Scheduled Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, the eighth-annual PolaCon will kick off with the 12th Annual IFS Rain-or-Shine PolaWalk at the State Fair of Texas. Since 2012, attendees have been snapping instant-film photos during the fair's opening day festivities in Dallas.
Additional events in and around the Denton Square will follow that weekend as part of PolaCon, including photography workshops, demonstrations, roundtable discussions and photo scavenger hunts as well as a concert featuring Denton-born rockers Pearl Earl and the Dallas-based band The Polyphonic Spree at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio.
"We get together for multiple days, and we share knowledge and hang out and build relationships and strengthen the community" of instant-film enthusiasts, says Andy Odom ('05), an Instant Film Society board member who earned an English degree at UNT and went on to a career in digital marketing.
PolaCon has grown so popular that the Instant Film Society recently began producing installments of the convention in San Francisco (PolaCon Bay Area) and Brooklyn (PolaCon NYC) after receiving requests from fellow instant-film fans. The inaugural event earlier this year in the Big Apple drew nearly 250 attendees.
"It's a big testament that so many people have come to us saying, 'Come do this in my town,'" Odom says.
Muñoz first learned about the organization during the inaugural PolaCon in 2016, when he and his girlfriend were approached on the Denton Square by an attendee and asked to pose for a photo. Instantly intrigued, a camera-less Muñoz attended the third day of the convention. Soon after, he began amassing a collection of Polaroid cameras. He and his girlfriend now own a dozen of them -- some vintage models, others brand new.
Four of Muñoz's photos will be featured in the 2024 edition of Photodarium, a daily tear-off calendar published in Germany that highlights the work of Polaroid photographers from around the world.
With instant-film photography, "I think that you learn through trial and error. The only way that you are going to get better at it is by practicing it," he says. "It's kind of an addictive process. When you get your first good photo, you want to do it again. It's knowing basic photography rules, but not being afraid to break those."
At PolaCon events, "We've had people who show up one year who don't own a camera. They'll show up the next year and have a camera and a photography book with all the photos they've taken over the past year," Muñoz says.
"I think once you buy in, you're in with both feet. It's detrimental to their wallet, but it's good to have a hobby or an artistic outlet. I don't consider myself an artist, but there is an artistic element there."
The resurgence in popularity of Polaroids and other instant-film and analog cameras in the digital age doesn't surprise Odom.
"I can print off a million copies of digital photos if I want. But when I take a Polaroid, that's the only image that exists, that's the real one," he says.
Although instant film can be "a little finicky" to work with, he insists it is possible for photographers of all skill levels to achieve great photos.
"Digital photography is great and it's convenient, but there's just something about holding the artifact in your hands that I think people are interested in."
Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, downtown Denton
The Instant Film Society's 12th Annual Rain-or-Shine #PolaWalk at The State Fair of Texas
10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sept. 29, Fair Park, Dallas