Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, spoke in front of one of his factories in 1970 and dreamt up the camera of the future: "A camera which you would use not on the occasion of parties only, or of trips only, or when your grandchildren came to see you, but a camera that you would use as often as your pencil or your eyeglasses." As Christopher Bonanos at the Wall Street Journal points out, Land predicted unbelievable technological advancements -- the Polaroid camera was just the first step.
In a new book from Prestel, "The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation," curator Mary-Kay Lombino takes a look at the freedom ushered in by Land's camera and how some of the most famous contemporary artists played with Polaroids.
David Levinthal's untitled Polaroid from American Beauties series (1990)
"The Polaroid Years" is a survey of photos by big names like Robert Mapplethorpe, Chuck Close, and Andy Warhol, just to name a few. Starting in 1972 when Polaroid released the popular SX-70, the book ends in 2011 after the company closed and former Polaroid employees attempted to perserve their brand of instant photography in an effort called The Impossible Project.
In the book's introduction, Lombino argues that the Polaroid camera was photography's ticket into the avant-garde movement, the medium's answer to painting's conceptual art. Whereas 1960s photography was "deeply mired in aesthetic conservatism," writes Lombino, in the 1970s, "many artist began to break with convention and look beyond the gelatin silver print to [other] forms of mechanical reproduction."
Land even developed an "Artist Support System" in the 1960s, in which artists would receive free equipment in return for artworks donated to Polaroid. "As a result, a tradition of experimentation with Polaroid took hold, and artists... turned to instant photography to create a remarkably diverse and innovative body of work that as Land predicted collectively left an indelible mark on the history of the photograph," writes Lombino in her introduction.
"The Polaroid Years" was released by Prestel May 5th.
Scroll through the slideshow below to see how David Hockney, Walker Evans, and Barbara Kasten used instant photography, and let us know that you think of the Polaroid shots in the comments below. (Warning: a few of the photos are somewhat NSFW).