If you’re close to snapping, reach for a Polaroid camera

Lifestyle

If you’re close to snapping, reach for a Polaroid camera

The first Polaroid camera was sold 70 years ago, going on to inspire everyone from Andy Warhol to Steve Jobs

Zola Zingithwa


Seven decades ago a new technology emerged, allowing the masses to snap pictures and print them almost simultaneously. The Polaroid camera’s arrival changed photography in the 1940s and now millennials are reinventing it and revelling in its popularity.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Polaroid camera’s commercial debut. According to the New York Post, the millennial revival of the old-school has seen an uptick in physical book purchases and vinyl records, and even Polaroid cameras are now making a come back.
On June 14 2008 Polaroid Corporation hosted a closing party, but it was not to be. Instead, a new company formed. According to Wired magazine, it was called the Impossible Project and aimed to revive the dying Polaroid. Last year the company released the Polaroid One Step 2 with modern features such as a timer, flash and USB charge port with black and white or colour film.
The resurgence of Polaroid pictures was also fuelled by the launch of Instagram in 2010. According to the Impossible Project, the app’s logo was inspired by the quintessential image of the Polaroid OneStep Land camera released in 1977. In turn the logo inspired the 2014 Socialmatic Polaroid camera. Fast Company Magazine argues that Instagram is simply the digital version of a Polaroid camera and now the Polaroid comeback is about returning to the roots of the selfie.
The Polaroid camera was invented by the American H Edwin Land. The founder’s story on the company website goes that while on holiday with his family in 1943, he took a picture with his Rolleiflex camera. His three-year-old daughter then asked him why she couldn’t see the picture immediately. It was a light bulb moment and with it the idea for an instant photograph was planted.
According to the author of Instant: The story of Polaroid, Land was the old-school Steve Jobs because of his penchant for dramatic unveilings of his latest products. In 1972 the invention of the Polaroid SX-70 camera and the Polaroid integral film was unveiled and, according to Wired, it was like the unveiling of the iPhone. Land apparently walked into a room and took five instant photos in 10 seconds. If you consider that the first Polaroid picture took 50 seconds “to print”, this new phenomenon must have wowed the crowd. From being able to instantly print a picture without needing to peel off the film to the “great white frame” around the image, the polaroid as we know it today was born.
Steve Jobs was greatly inspired by Land and considered him “one of the great inventors of our time”, according to Business Insider. Forbes magazine said Land ran his business as an intersection between the art world and science, inspiring Jobs when he founded Apple.
When Jobs finally met Land, Business Insider reported that he said it was “like visiting a shrine”.
Although the British photographer Martin Parr told the Guardian that the revival of Polaroid images is simply a kind of “processed nostalgia”, it is nonetheless a nostalgia that is creating new products from Polaroid’s competitors. Fujifilm has a whole range of Instax cameras and Kodak is courageously trying to ascend to its former glory with the Printomatic camera.
But 2018 will still belong to the Polaroid camera, not only because of the 70th anniversary but because Andy Warhol’s work is currently being celebrated. A retrospective of his work From A to B and Back Again is showing at the Whitney Museum of American Art from November until March next year. The selfie generation will be introduced to his work and possibly be inspired to become pop artists themselves with the latest instant cameras. Here’s to making many more memories with Polaroid.

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.