Coco Chanel famously said that “fashion is made to become unfashionable.” The same is true for technology, which is made to become obsolete. Most of us rush forward to acquire new inventions, leaving a trail of forgotten iPhones, tape decks and film cameras in our wake.
Not so for Stephen Silberkraus, who collects that old purveyor of instant gratification: Polaroids. He has 178 cameras, more than 2,000 photos and cases of expired, out-of-production film. “It’s definitely a little eccentric, I’m not going to lie,” Silberkraus says. “But it started really simply. I didn’t even realize how many I had until I sat down to count one day, and went, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’”
Laid out in his high-rise apartment, his collection resembles a timeline of American “progress.” The oldest camera is a Polaroid model 95, made in 1948, and is beautifully crafted out of metal with elegant mechanical functions. The newest are candy-colored tubes of molded plastic—they just look disposable. All the cameras work, even the ones for which film no longer exists. And he’s one of the few remaining photographers who still shoots on Polaroid.
Despite his historical hobby, Silberkraus is no Luddite. He runs SENSE Media, a multimedia company that uses contemporary technology to produce indie film projects, documentaries, photo shoots, social media and more. He also is on the boards of Opera Las Vegas and the Henderson Space & Science Center.
“It’s probably why I work with the Space & Science Center—I care about education, and I love history,” Silberkraus says. “This is a piece of history, and I feel like a caretaker. Somebody has to love and care about it so that one day down the road, people who do care have something … even if it’s something stupid like a stuffed flower that holds an i-Zone photo or a Barbie-cam.”