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The History Of Polaroid Innovations Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 4617 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This dissertation investigates the phenomenon of instant photography, with particular emphasis on the origins of Polaroid. Extensive research into the subject has charted the popularity of the Polaroid medium, from lengthy build-up to the technology through to the demise of the concept of instant photography itself.

The Polaroid Book (Quotations that would be useful)

“Much of everything, especially photography is instant today. Digital cameras have changed our lives for ever”

“While conventional photography has changed dramatically in the past few years, Polaroid continues to be a vital, sensitive and expressive material that has a unique look and feel of its own”

1 The History of Polaroid Innovations.

Bound by unique idiosyncrasies; the romanticised quality and swift nature of the instant image triggered a universal growth in the consumer market in the late 1970s. As a result of identifying the niche audience interested in instant image making; American inventor and scientist Edwin H. Land (1909 – 1991) encouraged a further uprising in amateur domestic snapshots. Although photography once attracted a selective and prestigious audience, who revelled in the dexterity needed to produce fascinating imagery; one of the most significant and influential advances in photography’s development, is the notion of the instant. ‘Faster processors, faster data transfers, and fast photos’ (Knight, 2011, p.1); the notion of speed was essential within the advancement of Polaroid [1] ; by materialising the imagery automatically, the requirement to develop negatives in a darkroom was abolished. Land provided the world with a unique product that no longer relied on a lethargic wait of specialist companies. Not only did the primitive camera concept go on to disturb the equilibrium of professional photography, the instant provide democracy in image taking; instantaneous in nature the ‘One step’ snapshot made the art form of image making accessible to the masses; a social right.

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Polaroid, although branded for the contrivance of the Instant camera, didn’t immediately pursue advances in the photographic market. Formed in 1937 the Polaroid Corporation was Lands second attempt in business; primarily his core success was generated during the first two decades of his life. Fixated by the 1911 edition of ‘Physical Optics’, from a young age, Land channelled his motivation into one of the most stimulating fields of science during the 1920s; the polarisation of light. Compelled by years of extensive research, he began to practice theories based on existing polarizing models during his first semester at Harvard University. His drastic experiments and keen obsession, contributed towards his success; by 1928 Land realised the difficult nature of growing the crystals to a beneficial size, he decided that through ‘simply aligning vast numbers of microscopic crystals in a polymer sheet (Earls and Rohani, 2005, p9) he could generate a synthetic sheet polariser. The development in polarisation was the first of its kind, a breakthrough in scientific discovery. Motivated by his ground-breaking find he furthered his enterprise towards exploring the practical applications of his invention. Eager to obtain commercial success; he established the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932; which eventually became Polaroid. Through the suggestion of his colleague George W. Wheelwright III, a Harvard physics graduate, both abandoned their academic careers to continue experimentation into the optics of polarized filters.

A company fashioned in the height of the great depression, the amplitude of work ahead quickly eluded them. Driven by his dedication, Land was granted his first of more than 500 patents in 1934 for his revolution with polarizers. The advancement and strength behind his initial discovery helped in the development of commercial and scientific applications, which in-turn excelled the company’s success. Aware of the array of possibilities that could be adopted by American society, Land’s ‘initial polarizing filter began to move away from the laboratory to large-scale commercialization’ (Ibid, p21). With insufficient customers providing capital and resources, Land-Wheelwright found success through a contract with photography’s giant Eastman Kodak [2] who possessed the cash-flow that kept the laboratories income stable. However the profitability in the inventions was elusive; more money was required to sustain the development in new products. His laboratories first attempt to mass produce was through creation of glare-free car headlights the application was never adopted, ‘Land petitioned the car companies for more than a decade…What grew his laboratory, in terms of both fame and money, were glare-free desk lamps, sunglasses, movies, and stage effects (Macdonald, 2012, Accessed 13/11/2012). Land-Wheelwright had modest growth potential; although polarization filters could be applied practically towards a range of resources; all emerged in short order. Sustained by contracts with companies such as the America Optical Company in 1939, each creation, although Avant-guard in style, captivated minor audiences and contracts until the demonstration of 3-D movie technology [3] . Unique in style the modernised technology captured the eyes of The Chrysler Group

producing one last contract with Chrysler, Wheelwrights partnership with Land slowly diminished – his job becoming obsolete. His forward-thinking and somewhat modernised ideas would be the back bone of his work ethics 3d was made 1936 and shown in 1939 – 40Wheelwrights job was becoming obsolete within the partnership because land had the main control and was in-fact the main idea man afterThe crysler deal was wheelwrights last contract for land before being wiped from the company

Land-Wright Laboratories reincorporated into the Polaroid Corporation; Land acquired all operations from the company moving it into a new era. Fascinated by the rate of expansion behind his ideas, ‘eight original shareholders fronted $375,000…’ (Funding universe, 1999 p2) investing their capital ‘in land and his ideas, allotting him a voting trust of stock that gave him control of the company for the next decade’ (ibid p.2). Through acquiring overall management of company, Land felt obligated to expand by hiring scientists that would eventually become necessities within Polaroid. Using the original properties of the polarized sheet, research was employed to provide concepts of products that could possibly conform within a mainstream society. Numerous commercial concepts were devised such as desk lamps and variable-density windows but limited products became significantly profitable until the company was impacted by war.

Due to the onset of the Second World War in 1941, many companies were swept into the demands of the military; astonishingly this urged Land to thrive as an inventor. Polaroid’s revolutionary designs went on to directly aid the armed forces by supplying polarized products that ‘were crucial to providing a combat edge’ (McDonald, K, Op Cit). Sales of the 1939 Day Glasses, in particular, catered to a substantial rise in revenue – sales of over $1 million. This phenomenal growth in profit essentially saved the Polaroid Corporation and the 240 employees; thus allowing the company to further expand and triple in size. Additionally other products Land implemented were brought into military fields, such as the earlier creation 3-D technology. As Bonanos (2012, p.31) explains ‘Reconnaissance planes could take photographs a few moments apart, after which they could be printed onto special film with polarizing dyes in the emulsion, then transferred to one sheet of acetate. Viewed with 3-D glasses it show the territory in dramatic relief, making it much easier for bombers to hit their targets; the transparent photographic print formed was termed as a Vectograph. Exercised thoroughly in all allied invasions; the Vectograph application was rapidly incorporated into the military’s training, which in-time designated a purpose for the ‘Polaroid War School’. The institute provided soldiers with the education to use the products confidently and learn the science of behind the 3-D photography. Land and his company were appraised for the support given towards the advancement of the military’s weapons. However weaponry was not their only achievement; Polaroid also triumphed in creating the medical advancement known as Synthetic Quinine [4] ; which in the latter would be sourced for his most innovative creation.

When the war ceased, Polaroid’s contracts began to diminish along with employee figures; the once 1250 at wartime high, became 900. Incredibly, by the end of the war sales had reached $16 million, but the loss of Polaroid’s biggest contract caused a plummeting decline in profit. The instant regression of post-war sale figures, forced Land to question the survival of the Polaroid Corporation, as the majority of the income provided was through military contracts. Due to the victory of WWII, western society engaged in a sense of liberation; industries however, became consumed with concern, dreading the re-occurrence of the Great Depression; a repercussion of the subsequent drop in military spending. By 1946, the Polaroid Corp’s revenue had fallen by 75%, to just under $4million; Polaroid’s only research line with potential lay in the concept of ‘Instant Photography’, first considered 3 years earlier. Un-expectedly, vast consumer demand fuelled an evidently strong economic ‘upswing; an explosion in investment, production, trade and science’ (Grant, 1989, Accessed 02/11/12). American suburban society, unable to spend or travel during the war was compelled to indulge on mass commercialized products. The newly acquired techno-utopian perspective presented Land with the platform to continue his pioneering ideas; earlier production of wartime applications provided the insight and information desired to aid in the expansion of one concept in particular. Using previous knowledge attained during development of synthetic quinine Land realized the impact of the inexpensive material; it could be used to polarize light. A revelation that lead him to the production of instant photography, which ultimately moulded his success as an innovator, during the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’ [5] 

With civilian economy restored, numerous industries strived forward; unfortunately the development of the instant was measured and the vital investigations into the chemicals of the integral film were far from completion. Even so, Land announced earlier that year that the prototype would be demonstrated at the 1947, Optical Society meeting of America held at Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. (Possibly go onto say what sort of man Land was pushy and very decisive)

Courageously the development of a working 8-by-10-inch model of the system An ad executive once said that polaroid was the easiest sell imaginable because “all you have to do is show the product” Both scientists and media operatives gathered as Land stepped on stage and demonstrated, what in later years he named the Land-Camera,

The magic trick nature of the camera is the best way to get people excited

What he revealed was a perfect sepia portrait of himself

Polaroid scientists developed a working model of the system

Breaking the tight mould invention-instant photography courageously tackled the boundaries and confinements of photography.

Integral mechanics to produce a singular inimitable artefact, the instant camera captured a fragment in time, connecting both the moment and the image, archiving them as one. Romano proposes that the instant ‘is the only form of photography that transcends mere documentation to become part of a moment it’s meant to preserve’ (Romano, 2009, accessed 10/10/12). Automatic in nature the ground-breaking instrument appeared on the market in 1948, turning the widely expensive form of self- expression into an affordable and available product. ‘Carry mass associations with snapshot’ (Buse) Snapshot’s being predictable and repetitive, the haste of the ‘Land-camera Model’95’ attracted a different and new audience, drawn to rapidness in-which the imagery could be abundantly fashioned. Within the first w.e “10million cameras sold”. However, the technology produced in the early stages of the Polaroid corporation success appeared far from completion, as numerous flaws begun to escalate within the chemistry of the film.

The explosive boom on first day of release 1950’s rapid expansion in sales due to an aggressive television campaign

Why they involved Ansel Adams

Flaws in black and white chemistry Type 41 (couldn’t yet be classed as 1step)

1960s: Improvements, variations on film, Colour, Polaroid swinger in 1965 (baby boomers) Further growth of industry new factories; market performance on top form

Colour had been a hit so much so that black and white was idling the solution was a genuinely inexpensive camera, one that took only back-and-white pictures. The buzzword of the era was ‘youthquake’; baby-boom teenagers were becoming a real consumer group. The new camera was pointed at them designed by Henry Dreyfuss (Insert picture?) ‘the design was groovy: mod white plastic with a silver-and-black bezel. It was lightweight, meant to dangle from the wrist on a lanyard, and Polaroid got the retail price down below twenty bucks.’ (p.75)

‘idiotproof: The cameras viewfinder lit up with the word YES when it saw enough light to take a photo’ (p.75)

1970s Sales reaching $500 million, Sx-70 One step camera created, decline in profit

1976 Patent infringement battle (Sub section)

1982 Lands

1.1 The Demise of Polaroid

An avid supporter of his thesis of the instant, Land put his life on hold for his insurmountable and pioneering technical find. His fixation with ‘one-step’ photography consumed his thoughts, which unknowingly would contribute to The Polaroid Corporations demise. Despite the copious amounts of success instant photography brought to the company’s reputation, the overall profit was subtle; ‘as with most technological advances, it seemed widely outdated decades later, especially with the proliferation of digital images’ (Davis, K, 2012, p.1). Spiralling further into debt, Land retired, cutting away the majority of his connections to the company.

Following the Great Depression, the 1980’s produced a post-World War II economic downturn, of vast magnitude; otherwise known as Regan’s recession.

Particularly with the SX-70 a camera technological advancement that transformed photography from a mere hobby to a natural, even essential way of looking at the world.

Despite the fact sales rose at 20% per year there was a tremendous expense of research manufacturing and marketing for the sx-70

Booth envisions a world ‘heading in the direction of instant imaging’ (Youngblood, R, 1986, p.?)

It suggests that polaroid was always trying to compete with the standard and quality of other cameras, where-as I believe that people were drawn to the somewhat unique aesthetic and how they could have their pictures in a moment rather than in a few days.

The recession in the 1980’s debt within the company

Unknowingly moving closer towards the demise of the corporation Insurmountable that has been compared to Apple Inc. (1976)


(Relevant) George Eastman, the founder, in 1888 introduced ‘the dream of the snapshot’ to American society; his interest in polarizing filters, for both photographic and industrial uses allowed him to further develop his

Polarizing filters, for all sorts of photographic and industrial uses were of great interest to Kodak.

1976 it began 1986 kodaks instant photography was terminated

Case was not settled until 1991 resulted in Eastman Kodak paying $925 million

The Kodak camera had turned picture-taking into a mass phenomenon.

1880’s cameras improved in speed mobility and lightness;

With Eastman Kodak Co. effectively knocked out of the instant photography business, Polaroid’s leaders are brimming over ideas to re-capture the dizzying purchasing pace of the late 1970’s. (Youngblood, 1986, pD-3)

1.2 From Polaroid to Impossible

Destined for extinction; the revival of Polaroid Corporation was a task seen to be impossible; with digital technology superseding numerous photographic mediums, many began to hesitate the longevity of analogue photography. Since the arrival of the digital revolution in the1980’s, otherwise known as the third industrial revolution, the once ‘booming’ industry of instant photography was branded primitive. Lands technology was seen as out-dated and replaced, which ultimately brought the foreseen closure of the remaining Polaroid factory in early 2008. The novelty of instantly seeing your photos may have waned enough to justify the shuttering of production, but the unique look and feel of Polaroid’s photos had a fan base that wasn’t so quick to let the outdated technology die (Davis, K, 2012, p.1)

Digital photography rendered the instant film obsolete to all but a few nostalgic buffs

Enthusiast Dr Florian Kap’s, the leading manager at Lomographic, felt obliged to fight

Digital photography renered instant film obsolete

Drawn to the distinctive qualities of the imagery Polaroid’s produced enthusiasts Dr Florian Kaps and Other name,

The vision of the impossible project was to revive precisely this analogue material quality of the photograph in a moment and place it in the hands of the new generation

Photography has never been a question of technology alone; it has always been a cultural phenomenon (Who, when, where)

The impossible project is the one to thank for the mediums reprieve

Why people are choosing to use them? Drawn to the physicality of the image

The romance of Polaroid is about more than a photographic process becoming obsolete. It’s also evoked by something embedded in the very medium – a material quality that’s distinct from other types of photographs

In October 2008 the impossible project save the last polaroid production plant for integral instant film in Enschede and started to invent and produce totally new instant film materials for traditional polaroid cameras. In 2012 impossible saved analog instant photography from extinction by releasing various brand new and unique instant films

Saved cameras from becoming obsolete changes the world of photography and keeps variety tangibility and analogue creativity and possibilities alive

Company had to start from scratch because the original polaroid colour dyes are no longer available nor can they be reproduced. Had a year to reproduce! Thousands of experements and after millions of small steps they managed to develop a new system

Dr. Florian Kaps – dived into the magic of the system Leading manager of the lomographic society.

2. A Snapshot Aesthetic

Removing the subjective and minuscule adjustments that analogue cameras abide by, Land cultivated an upsurge of image taking throughout the 20th century, allowing a wider demographic to become religiously enticed by the speed of the photographic genre. Snapshot imagery was accepted as a conventional and essential accessory in western cultures placing ‘the amateur on equal footing with the expert’ (Buse, 2009, p.10). ‘One step’ photography simplified the nature of picture taking; every stage was automated for ease of operation. Being free of the burden and limitations of the professional equipment, suburban subcultures began to explore using the camera as an instrument to capture the mediocre events of every-day life, thus removing the notion of photography as being an art form. As Slater (1995 cited in Buse, 2010, p.14) suggests ‘Snapshot culture contributes to domestic ideology and practices of leisure time’. Photographs are used as a device to communicate; commonly amateurs are encouraged by the desire to authenticate as well as regulate identity and memory. Nuclear families in particular were drawn to the informal spontaneity of instant photography and the characteristics of the imagery, because they provided knowledge of the past through visual statements. Realising the distinctive potential of the instant image, Land strived to adapt the rigid aesthetic of photography, coining ‘a new medium of expression to those who have an artistic interest in the world around them…’ (Land, 1948 Cited in Hitchcock 2011, p.13) Independently driven, he began researching into the instant, a concept motivated, in 1943, by his daughter’s simple query “Why can’t I see them now!”

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Subsection 2.1 Social Networking

Mechanically ruled; western societies continuously expand, develop and re-market nostalgic cultures; adding new variations on iconic trends. Each adaptation provides innovative ways of developing snapshot photography, a style established as early as the nineteenth century. Though the design of instantaneous features shifted the focus of the western culture, Buse (2009, p.3) argues ‘The obsolescence of a technology does not necessarily mean the absolute passing of a cultural form, but rather the modification of already existing practices’. (Talking about the changes Instagram is one etc)

‘There has never been as much instant in the world as there is today in the digital lifestyle…Digital photography is the new instant photography.’ (Hiene, 2011, p9)

How does instagrams success relate to polaroid?

Setting aside the filters, most of it is about the sharing specifically: about sharing a stream of snapshots that are causal and constant. There’s a certain kind of picture-taking that you see on Instagram that you would not see on conventional film or even really fancy digital cameras.

You’re documenting yourself and your friends and family as you go about your normal life. This is the way people used SX-70 and Polaroid cameras. Its not a form of photography that’s entirely new… it was pioneered by Polaroid. Before that people didn’t take pictures quite the same way. Polaroid discovered this sort of casual, vernacular snapshot-taking and encouraged it. Digital technologies because you have instant feedback and because you can share so readily make it almost effortless.

Digital photography may have been the thing that finished off Polaroid’s analogue business, but the kind of photography you do on Instagram is Polaroid photography in a different form.

3. Practitioners (Re-name)

Recognized for its immediacy, the instant medium not only compelled mass audiences to become photographically aware but developed an artistic society who became absorbed with producing visual nostalgia. Evoked a distinct quality that other mediums could not compete with the picture allows immediate gratificiation as it rolls out of the camera developing right before your eyes. They got involved not only because it was different but because they could see their concepts coming alive within seconds

The qualitity was somewhat painterly

Enchanted to the ethereal aesthetic and tonal qualities of instant film

Gradually removing responsibility from the camera operator for all functions expect the selection and framing of the subject matter (Buse, 2009: p1)

The immediate gratification the narcissistic fix offered by the picture that rolls out the camera and develops right before your eyes (Schwabsky, B, 2010, P35)

‘not only did artist begin discovering Polaroid; Polaroid began coming to them’ (Bonanos, p.68) ‘a Polaroid camera meant whatever happened in front of the lens never needed to be seen by a lab technician’ (p.71)

‘Polaroid pornography was huge’ (p.73)

Robert Mapplethorpe acquired a Polaroid pack film camera with the intention of integrating it’s pictures into those collages – bit like David Hockney

Appreciated the photos themselves – his photos often homoerotic – grew even more so when he realised his sexual identiy and embraced it. The polaroid camera allowed him to hid his identity from the world until they could handle his images (1970’s)

Everyone that experiments with polaroid or was drawn to it, seems to be born around the time it was produced

These photographs can be wounded, violated. There frame protects and preserves them like clothing around a vulnerable body (Trottman, 2002 Cited in Buse, 2009)

Subsection 3.1 Robert Mapplethorpe

Notes: 1970s – 1996. “Right From the Start”

Modest black and white polaroids – have similar aesthetic as snapshot images captures the intimacy of himself through self-portraiture

Images are intimate in their delicacy and tonality, candid and cheeking in their scale and effect; drawing the viewer into the crisp and spontaneous instants of frisson

Seductive One image of crumpled white bedsheets approaches the sublime in its simplicity, others seduce the viewer with an effortless caprice. But these works from the early seventies also convey a certain crispness that would develop into what Thomas Sokolowski refers to in his catalogue essay as “glacial synopsis”. The poloroids clearly prefigure his later work, where the image gains a sexual power precisely through the complex levels of detachment which characterise the artist’s portraits (of faces, bodies and genitals), still lifes, and his disciplined composition http://www.artdes.monash.edu.au/globe/issue3/bhrmtxt.html (go back to this shite)

3.2 Paolo Roversi

Notes: FilepMotwary2011

DOB 1947 – year first Polaroid camera was presented to optic society, brought up during the instant exploration

Natalia Vodianova

Subsection 3.3 Andre Kertesz Sx-70

DOB 1894 born into analogue used Polaroid as a safety net, not wanting to leave his house.

Untitled (SX0446) May 3rd 1979

And Untitled (SX1276) December 3rd, 1979



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