For several decades of its history, the Polaroid was called a “Land Camera” after the company’s founder Edwin Land, and the product line included not only consumer devices but also high-end machines like the SX-70, a folding SLR camera introduced in 1972. The SX-70 boasted a host of impressive features that allowed photographers to achieve the effects of non-instant SLRs such as “changes in depth of field, double exposure, fixed-point focusing, and closeup photography.” The SX-70 made a considerable impression on famed husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames, so much so that they produced the 11-minute advertisement above describing in detail the SX-70′s highly complex operations. In his introduction, Charles Eames tells us that no less an authority than Alfred Stieglitz “favored any means that might free the photographer’s whole energies so that they could be channeled in the direction of the decision, the picture itself.” Thus, Edwin Land’s inventions are given the imprimatur of the father of fine art photography himself, and in 1972, the SX-70 was Land’s highest achievement to date.
The Polaroid instant camera seems to have come full circle from consumer toy to utilitarian snapshot-maker to artists’ experimental tool to instrument of retro-hipsterism to consumer toy again. But the physical, real-world Polaroid aesthetic almost met its end in 2008 when the company discontinued production of its instant film, prompting the creators of the Impossible Project to “[save] analog instant photography from extinction by releasing various, brand new and unique instant films.” Above, VP Dave Bias demonstrates the project’s device, which allows smartphone photogs to print images on Polaroid-style film. Responding to the massive demands of 21st century détourned nostalgia, Polaroid has introduced new lines of instant cameras, and Fuji is also bridging the Instagram/Polaroid divide with a portable printer this spring. But what the Impossible Project highlights—as the Eames did in ‘72—is just how much the Polaroid became a means of making fine art as well as kitsch, a too often unremarked upon application of the famous instant camera and the visual aesthetics it bequeathed the digital age.
via Mental Floss