Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Untouched World Of Polaroid Photos (2013)

Instant Photography

The Iconic SX-70: “In 1973–4, the Skylab 3 and 4 astronauts used an SX-70 to photograph a video display screen to be able to compare the Sun's features from one orbit to the next,” Wikipedia writes
Photo Credit: John Kahrs, 2007
Source: Wikipedia

An article in The Economist looks at the history and continuing interest among certain photographers of the Polaroid camera and the aesthetics of untouched instant photos.

When Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid, first unveiled his instant camera in 1947, such thoughts were at the front of his mind. “The purpose of inventing instant photography was essentially aesthetic,” he declared, “to make available a new medium of expression to numerous individuals who have an artistic interest in the world around them.” This was not just product-launch hyperbole. By 1949, Land had placed Ansel Adams, a revered photographer of the American landscape, on a monthly retainer as a consultant.
When Land saw how useful Adams was in suggesting improvements to his product he began Polaroid’s Artist Support Program which offered grants of cameras and film to artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg in order to have his products tested to their limits. As a result Polaroid amassed more than 16,000 fine-art photographs. This collection was both a technical and a visual documentation of the company’s products, and it helped to dispel any notions of disposability that the word “instant” implied. Even after Polaroid cameras became a mass-market commodity—in the 1960s almost half of America’s households owned one—Polaroid maintained a connection to the art world.
After struggling for a decade and filing for bankruptcy twice (in 2001 and 2008) Polaroid stopped producing instant film in 2008. But the demand for instant film, and the creative possibilities the technology offers, is still strong. Fortunately for artists and devotees, a group of Polaroid enthusiasts set up The Impossible Project in the same year. Impossible leases the last remaining instant film-production plant in Enschede in the Netherlands (which used to be Polaroid’s European headquarters) and now produces instant film materials for traditional Polaroid cameras. It is creating new instant film types too. Last year it sold more than 700,000 film packs. This year it hopes to reach 1m. (Polaroid now favours the digital-camera market and continues to make only one classic analog camera, the 300 model, which uses business-card size instant film.)
Like many families, we bought a Polaroid camera, first I believe, if memory is accurate, a Colorpak 100 series, and then in the 1970s, the iconic SX-70. My father had an interest in photography, and it was him who decided to purchase the cameras, which I had found surprising. Like many kids, I enjoyed playing around with them, taking a few pictures. But picture-taking then was not as it is now with digital photography.

Since film was expensive, one learned that it was important to take photos judiciously, at an important event or celebration, and only of individuals. Shots were not generally snapped randomly, but were posed for posterity. I still have a few Polaroid photos from the late 1970s and early 1980s in my collection, I look at them, in some cases, 40 years later, and I see a period in my life that seems at odds with what I thought was important much later. But there it is, in all its revelation, untouched, unmanipulated.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Economist]

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