Here’s our pal Mark Lamster’s Q&A with Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid:
ML: One aspect of public relations at which Land was especially adept was in building relationships with artists. Because a Polaroid camera is a bit clumsy in the hand and hard to focus, because the saturation of the film is so idiosyncratic and rich, and because the format is so unique, Polaroid encourages, as you note, a kind of self-conscious artiness. It’s amazing what a broad spectrum of artists ended up working with Polaroid. I know when I started taking Polaroids, I was influenced by Walker Evans, one of the “house” artists.
CB: That’s somewhat true — though I’d say that it even more encouraged a kind of casual artless shooting that equates with what we do on social networks. The other day, I met an artist named Tom Slaughter who was a huge Polaroid user back in the eighties. We were going through his photos — he has thousands — and it’s striking how much each box of them looks like an Instagram feed. They’re the same kinds of casual snapshots that somehow also feel documentary and a little profound: people eating and drinking, sitting on the porch, whatever. And it’s even the same square format, which is not an accident: the Instagram guys explicitly pay homage to Polaroid in their logo, and have a display of old Polaroid cameras in their offices. On the genuinely arty end of things, though, it’s true that Polaroid opened up its own big niche. The spontaneity was valuable to some people, like Andy Warhol; the color was especially useful to others, like Marie Cosindas; and the unique technology was valuable to Ansel Adams and a lot of other people.
I’ll never forget my father’s Polaroid camera, the sound of it being unfolded, the pleasure in pressing the red buttom to take a picture (always a treat), watching the image come out. And then fighting with my brother and sister to see which one of us could shake the photograph until an image appeared. It felt like magic.
[Photo Credit: Sincerely Lola]
I remember that camera. I think we got ours in 1973. It was magic.