Text: N. V. / Illustration: Tasos Papaioannou (onemanshowstudio.com)
Any article about polaroid is an article about times long past – if not an obituary. Edwin Land invented the polaroid film
and camera in November 1947 after 3 years of very hard work -inspired by a comment made by his daughter: ‘Daddy,
Why can’t I see the picture you took of me right away?’ Edwin Land introduced it to the public in 1948 and it proved to be a huge success, gaining soon iconic status.
In the 60’s and the 70’s it was perceived as a physical representation of the spirit of the era. Yet polaroid hasn’t really evolved since the introduction of the SX-70 model. Digital photography arrived in the late 90’s, with all the advantages of instant film: point, shoot and view the photo right away without waiting for prints to come back from the drugstore; plus one that would eventually lead to the demise of polaroid: It was cheap. There were but a few customers left, willing to pay 7000 Drachmas for just 10 pictures. Most of them artists, unwilling to change their brushes. Yet the wider public was indifferent and there was no magic left to a polaroid anymore. The company was doomed and the final package was produced in 2008 with an expiry date of October 2008. The last few remaining boxes were sold in 2009 and then only the lucky ones could locate a rare listing of too expensive, long expired items on eBay. End of story.
Now polaroid -the instant film not the company Polaroid which still exists but has little in common with its past- as in any good story, could not stay dead for long. Instead of just lying there it decided that it would play the reincarnation game. Land had decided that in order for instant film to succeed it had to be desired and respected. One of the first things he did after presenting his invention was to contact famous photographers and make a deal with them: ‘I’ll give you all the film that you want as long as you get to use it. What you have to do for me is to allow me afterwards to show everyone what you did with it’. It worked. At a time when the art scene had a problem accepting photographers as artists due to the mechanical aspect of photography a polaroid due to its uniqueness would be considered a work of art if it was shot by David Hockney or Andy Warhol and later Robert Mapplethorpe and others. And when artists like Lucas Samaras started shooting in the 20x25cm and larger sizes using huge custom made cameras and then manipulating the emulsion the polaroid found a welcoming place in the Art Museums, exactly as Land intended. This legacy is what allowed polaroid in the 21st century to leave all family- and-friends-photos to digital and take on an I-am-creating-art-now stance whenever instant film is used. The moment it became next to impossible to buy it a lot of new artists emerged that remembered how arty it is to use instant film (Dash Snow and his polaroids being one example of the trent). Art school students soon followed.
Nowadays the future of polaroid is bright. New cameras come out, hundreds of websites are dedicated to the medium-flickr groups alone are countless and exhibitions take place all the time in prestigious galleries. There is also a company called ‘The Impossible Project’ whose goal is to produce ‘A new generation of instant film for polaroid cameras. Carefully manufactured to slowly develop in your hands.’ Ah, yes. That sounds about…wrong? Polaroid was never slow. Speed and being able to show what you did right away was the main attraction. Well, that aspect of polaroid is long gone. Now it is about instantly taking your time.