Despite moving into our house a year ago we still have a number of boxes yet to be unpacked. Most of those boxes are filled with books, including a lot of books that I still haven’t read. Shelving to hold our library is in the planning stages but until that project is done they wait in boxes. Looking for the next book to read requires a bit of a hunt, in my latest dig I was happy to find Instant: The Story of Polaroid sitting on the top of one of the boxes. I had received the book as a gift right before we packed up our library 2 years ago.
The book itself feels and looks like something made by Polaroid. I was surprised to find it was published in 2012 despite it’s 70s aesthetic. I usually just fold over the corner to mark my place but couldn’t bring myself to bend the stiff pages. The author, Christopher Bonanos, clearly dove deep into the history of the iconic company and it’s creator Edwin Land when doing research for this book. Yet he was able to use all the nuances and side stories to support the over arching theme without forcing in tangents that are interesting side bits but do nothing for the main point. It’s an approachable and easy read while still explaining some pretty complex ideas. Bonanos style of writing holds on to the complexity of Land’s inventions while keeping it comprehensible.
The story of Polaroid is familiar, one that repeats itself in many American success stories. A quirky young man with an unique mind and passion for inventing changes the world with their way of thinking and creates a multi-billion dollar business in the process. I was surprised to find that Polaroid got it’s start trying to solve car headlight glare using polarized lenses. That they were already a well established company inventing technology for the war when Land came up with the idea of the instant photo. An invention that without argument changed the field of photography and American culture. Even more surprising was fine art photographer Ansel Adams’ involvement from the beginning.
Curious about how this new technology would shape the field of photography Ansel Adams asked to be a field tester for the cameras and film Land designed. He sent back detailed notes to Land to be used as part of their research. He would also show up in person to talk with the inventors about ways he thought things could be improved upon or just to see what they were working on. This story within the story stood out to me in a way those types of stories always do. My insecurities about following where my own curiosity leads causes stories of others seemingly fearless pursuit to make an awe inspiring impression.
All of us have our own story involving a polaroid. Mine involves spending hours as a kid arranging my stuffed animal collection into various poses in order to take their portrait with my polaroid camera. I remember dragging a rocking chair into my room to make the photos look more professional. The instant polariod made my pretending seem more real. I was left with a tangible product of my imagination. Sadly those stuffed animal portraits are lost but I do have some of the polaroids I took when I was a kid. They were photos I took without my current set of self conscious baggage. I wanted to take a photo of my brother drinking his pepsi so I did without wondering what my brother thought, or what anyone else in the room thought, or what I would do with the photo once I took it, and what the photo said to the viewer, or why it is important to capture that moment, or any of the other existential bullshit lines of questioning I hide behind. I wanted to take a photo of my brother, so I did. I wasn’t worried about whether or not it was good or if someone else would think it was silly. I just did it.
As I get ready to dive back into the studio I hope to take the ways I was inspired by Instant and the childlike pursual of art of my younger self with me.
As always, thanks for reading.
If you feel inspired to pick up a copy of Instant: The Story of Polaroid check out your local bookstore first!
Stuff You Should Check Out:
– The Impossible Project is keeping the Polaroid film alive having bought the last polaroid film factory right before is was shut down. Not only do they sell film but they recently released a new instant photo camera.
– This great article from New York Film Academy about some of the most famous artists that used Polaroid in their work.
– And from Polariod’s website where they announced the latest camera, Snap Touch, in September. A digital camera that can print instantly.