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Dec. 06, 2012

The Land of Polaroid

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
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If the artsy-ish Instagram photos are here to stay (in spite of this or this) let's at least tag the originator of that "1977" effect (left): Credit goes to Edwin H. Land, the man who brought analog instant photography to the people. 
 
Land was a scientist, inventor and co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation. His hundreds of patents range from technology for polarizing light to a method for viewing stereoscopic imagery. But it was Land's innovative camera--point, shoot, yank out the photo--that made Polaroid a household name. For the first time, people could see and share snapshots in minutes. 
 
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"That was life altering in some ways," says Christopher Bonanos, author of the new book Instant: The Story of Polaroid. "Most small towns didn't have a photo lab. You'd have to put the film in a mailing envelope and send it to Eastman Kodak. If you missed a shot you didn't know. With a Polaroid, you saw what you'd done right away." 
 
Polaroid introduced its first instant camera in 1948. By the 1970s photographers were shooting a billion Polaroid photos a year, according to Bonanos. Artists Andy Warhol, Walker Evans, Chuck Close, Robert Mapplethorpe and Ansel Adams worked with Polaroid cameras. (Adams was a consultant for Polaroid, says Bonanos.) 
 
But even its art-world celebrity status couldn't keep Polaroid from fading. Land left the company in 1982. By 2001, the company had filed for bankruptcy twice. Polaroid stopped producing film in 2008*. 
 
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Have an actual Polaroid you want to share? Scan it or take a photo of it with your smartphone (no altering!) and send a jpg to photos@sciencefriday.com. (Put "Polaroid" in the subject line.) We'll collect and share them in the coming weeks. And stay tuned for more about Land and Polaroid: We'll chat with Bonanos in the near future. 
 
(*Don't throw out that old Polaroid just yet. The Impossible Project sells film for Polaroid 600 and SX 70 cameras, so you can keep that point, shoot, hold-an-actual-photo-in-your-hand feeling alive. A pack of eight color shots goes for $23.49 plus shipping.)
 

 

About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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