16 June 2011
Here are two of my hand-manipulated Polaroids from 1994 and 1995; others can be found on my Homepage under Photographs, 1990s-2010.
Photography has a history of changing the way we view everyday life. Today’s mass appeal to document and record the visual is available to just about everyone. In history’s treasure trove it is exhilarating and enticing to find new technology that redefined an extinct one, and then threw that semi replica into the popular culture. Still, it was surprising to read about an unusual alliance between two American icons who are reinventing Dr. Edwin Land’s legacy: the instant camera.
Lady Gaga has won a place in my thoughts, and not for the usual reasons. Sure, she’s a mega talent who others try to label, but I find her hard to categorize. She’s a sort of modern-day philosopher, who uses music as her voice. But never mind. Because suddenly I find myself fascinated by her creative breath. No, I do not want to meet her or attend one of her extravagant performances. I simply want to thank her for helping to re-design, re-energize and re-introduce the Polaroid camera for the twenty-first century.
Among Lady Gaga’s broad spectrum of talents are Creative Director for Polaroid. And that’s not in name only. She’s really making a splash in photography, social media and the environment.
From 1994-1995 I was enamored with the Polaroid SX70. You may know the one that so many loved and some continue to love. What drew me to the camera was the universal applause given to the Time-Zero* film for the SX-70. A film enabling its user to manipulate its surface. I was hooked and went on a personal rampage, loving the way the film pushed the creative process. Then the curtain of excitement drew to a close: I was exposing myself to the chemicals unleashed by playing with the color emulsion of the print. *Only the SX-70 could use the Time-Zero film, but the SX-70 also could use other films made for other styles of Polaroid cameras.
I own multiple SX70 cameras, and they are boxed away with memories of fabulous experimental times. My use of the camera was sweetly sprinkled with gusto, travel and creative thrills. Not only do I have almost a half-dozen of them, but I also have boxes of Polaroids prints that still retain their color. With its quiet zeal and results in seconds that camera provided another way to stop the world–instantly.
By 2009 Polaroid ceased production of film for its instant cameras, and the void was immediately apparent. The first single step instant camera was packed away, and mourned. Welcome to the digital age and its targets, which stream lines the past into a new way of recording the still and moving image.
The angst over this loss was deep in the artistic community, and felt by other aficionados of the SX-70 small snapshot (image size=3 2/8″ x 3 1/8″; paper size= 31/2″ x 4 1/4″). Now if you own Smart phones, which I do not and probably never will, there are options: two apps (Hipstamatic and Instagram) simulate the instant Polaroid effect of the SX-70. Both are given high praise by users. I’m drooling.
And I cannot forget to mention the numerous artists and luminaries who put the Polaroid Land Camera to work on their own terms. Some examples are: Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, William Wegman, Eliot Porter, and Yousuf Karsh.
Now back to the unlikely collaboration of Lady Gaga and Polaroid that has produced the next generation of yummy stuff. This unlikely duo has create three products. Their Grey Label devices include an instant digital camera (available sometime late in 2011), an instant mobile printer (available now) and the camera sunglasses (available at the end of 2011; certainly not my type of fashion accessory). See Polaroid’s Web site for details (Polaroid.com/en/stream).
Lady Gaga’s ingenuity continues to astonish. A few years ago she conceived the idea of camera sunglasses. Yep, she improvised and made them for one of her performances. Now she has wedded her original concept with the company that has surpassed its own boundaries, having made its first reputation with polarized sunglasses. These two icons are a marriage made in consumer, social media and technological heaven.
My excitement floats around the instant digital camera’s companion, the instant mobile printer that uses ZINK Zero Ink technology. Not only has digital photography helped the environment, it has made it possible for innovative products. Zero Ink uses ZINK paper to produce the color image–no cartridge, no ribbons, no toner. It’s all in the paper, which produces a print that is 3″ x 4″ borderless and pocket-sized. It’s as easy as “snap, print, share.”
We all know that most entertainers partner with a business at one point or another in their careers. These collaborations are marketing tools that have benefits for all parties, until it doesn’t.
I have a fabulous book honoring Dr. Edwin Land’s original instant camera (The Polaroid Book: Selections from the Polaroid Collection of Photography, Barbara Hitchcock, 2008). It’s worth the purchase. The new Polaroid may not be a purist’s dream, which would give homage to the SX-70, but it adds yet another chapter to the company’s role in the history of photography.
Still, as the SX-70 proved, it’s not sophisticated equipment that makes a stunning or memorable image. It’s the aesthetic vision of the creator.