Before Urban Outfitters and Project Impossible, before the adorable bickering ubiquity of spokespeople James Garner and Mariette Hartley, Polaroid kept things classy by entrusting its reputation to the most serious of serious actors.
Take Laurence Olivier. Who else could have made the phrase “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera” sound like Shakespeare? Seriously. He could’ve tacked the string of superlatives he unleashes against a black background above onto the end of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech and I would have been none the wiser.
(And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day –
Pocket sized, folding, electronically controlled, motor driven…)
According to the late Peter Wensberg, a former Polaroid exec and author of Land’s Polaroid, A Company and the Man Who Invented It, Sir Laurence agreed to the 1972 spot on the condition that it wouldn’t be shown in England. (YouTube wouldn’t be founded for another thirty years.)
Sir Larry was followed in 1979 by actress Liv Ullmann, solemnly praising the SX70 Sonar OneStep‘s moment-capturing abilities. Is there a Polaroid somewhere in the Ingmar Bergman Archive of his and Ullmann’s 12-year-old daughter Linn, standing at the sink, washing dishes? Or has YouTube become the sole reliquary for these precious moments?
Christopher Plummer’s 1980 spot seems downright loose by contrast, as he kicks back on a beach, aiming his SX70 Sonar OneStep at a Golden Retriever and a canoe’s worth of kids. (Sir Larry’s subject was a rather fussy porcelain clock.)
Given their history, it’s easy to think of Polaroid’s instant cameras as a gimmick or a fad, but such noted photographers as Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, and Walker Evans were fans of the SX-70.