Polaroids of the 19th Century

Photo by my favorite contemporary portrait photographer using alternative processes, Giles Clement.  

Photo by my favorite contemporary portrait photographer using alternative processes, Giles Clement.  

ALTERNATIVE PROCESS PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

So this episode from the B&H Podcast isn't technically about polaroids, but it does talk extensively about the polaroids of the 19th century, also known as tintypes. The podcast also covers cyanotype, wet plates, daguerreotype, calotype, gum bichromate and spirit photography. An hour of all things alternative and I love it. Check out the Penumbra Foundation and the Halide Project to learn more about alternative photo processes and how you can get involved. 

Not just a toy

Polaroids are too often dismissed as being merely "fun time" cameras. While Polaroid cameras are technically easy to use and known for their charming unpredictability, they are most definitely not just toys. Photographers and artists from Walker Evans and Andy Warhol to Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg have proven that a thousand times over. If I can put the money where my mouth is for a moment, an Ansel Adams polaroid broke the artists record selling for $772,500 at a Sotheby's auction of The Polaroid Collection, a collection of thousands of artists' Polaroids that were amassed over nearly six decades. Here is just a handful of the magic a few of my favorites have made. 

 

DAVID HOCKNEY

In the 1980's David Hockney made massive collages using polaroid peel apart film. He called these composites "joiners" and stopped painting for years to work on this technique exclusively.   

In the 1980's David Hockney made massive collages using polaroid peel apart film. He called these composites "joiners" and stopped painting for years to work on this technique exclusively. 

 

CHUCK CLOSE

Chuck Close used the enormous 20x24 inch Polaroid to create these composites in the 1980's. Close posed just 4 inches away from the camera to make this collage of his own face.   

Chuck Close used the enormous 20x24 inch Polaroid to create these composites in the 1980's. Close posed just 4 inches away from the camera to make this collage of his own face. 

 

WALKER EVANS

Near the end of his life the great Walker Evans, famous for the  photographs he made during the Great Depression, created an incredible body of work using Polaroid sX-70. He shot thousands of Polaroids before he died, and said "Nobody should touch a polaroid until they're at least sixty...It reduces everything to your brains and taste."   

Near the end of his life the great Walker Evans, famous for the  photographs he made during the Great Depression, created an incredible body of work using Polaroid sX-70. He shot thousands of Polaroids before he died, and said "Nobody should touch a polaroid until they're at least sixty...It reduces everything to your brains and taste." 

 

MARY ELLEN MARK 

One of my personal heros, Mary Ellen Mark used the 20x24 in a much different way. In the Early 2000's she photographed the Twins Day Festival and couples at their prom creating gorgeous, intimate portraits.  

One of my personal heros, Mary Ellen Mark used the 20x24 in a much different way. In the Early 2000's she photographed the Twins Day Festival and couples at their prom creating gorgeous, intimate portraits.

 

ANDY WARHOL

It's nearly impossible to think of Andy Warhol without thinking of polaroid. So much so that Rob Pruitt's statue, Andy Monument, shows him with an sx-70 around his neck. He took thousands of polaroid pictures, favoring the Big Shot, and often used them to create his screenprints. These polaroids were recently published in a book, ANDY WARHOL: POLAROIDS

It's nearly impossible to think of Andy Warhol without thinking of polaroid. So much so that Rob Pruitt's statue, Andy Monument, shows him with an sx-70 around his neck. He took thousands of polaroid pictures, favoring the Big Shot, and often used them to create his screenprints. These polaroids were recently published in a book, ANDY WARHOL: POLAROIDS

ANSEL ADAMS

Ansel Adams worked closely with Polaroid inventor Edwin Land for decades. Land hired Adams to test out his cameras and film and offer professional feedback. 

Ansel Adams worked closely with Polaroid inventor Edwin Land for decades. Land hired Adams to test out his cameras and film and offer professional feedback. 

 

 

DR. LAND AND HIS MAGIC CAMERA

AN ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF CREATIVITY IS NOT BEING AFRAID TO FAIL
— EDWIN LAND

Polaroid began with a simple question from a 3 year old girl, "Why can't I see it?" The "it" she was referring to was the photo her father had just taken of her. Her father just happened to be Dr. Edwin Land and 5 years later, in 1948, the first polaroid cameras hit the shelves. Within a decade it became a worldwide icon. Now nearly 70 years- and a digital phenomenon- later, instant photography remains a staple of contemporary photography.  Read a little more about the genius behind Polaroid and why he is often compared to Steve Jobs, here .