Designers Charles & Ray Eames Create a Promotional Film for the Groundbreaking Polaroid SX-70 Instant Camera (1972)

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.” 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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Lau­rence Olivi­er, Liv Ull­mann and Christo­pher Plummer’s Clas­sic Polaroid Ads

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Ital­ian Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mau­r­izio Gal­im­ber­ti Cre­ates Cubist Polaroid Col­lages of Artists & Celebri­ties

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Donna Savage says:

    Thanks so much for this! It made me real­ize how won­der­ful it was to have a polaroid cam­era back in my teen years. Still have many pho­tos from that cam­era. The movie clip is so 70s — loved that era. Have a great 2014.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.