How Polaroid pioneered the instant photography revolution

How Polaroid pioneered the instant photography revolution


JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: When it comes
to photography, we’re all pretty much living in the Insta world. We want our pictures now or never. Many think it was Polaroid that set us on
that path with its first revolutionary camera dating back to 1947. The museum at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology is now telling the story of how the Polaroid era began, and the artists
who were there to make it happen. Special correspondent bow Jared Bowen of public
media station WGBH Boston reports. It’s part of our ongoing series on arts and
culture, Canvas. JARED BOWEN: For Ansel Adams, it answered
the call of the wild. Chuck Close used it to get up close and personal. William Wegman thought it was horseplay. It was the Polaroid camera. And when it came to photography, it changed
everything. WILLIAM EWING, Curator, The Polaroid Project:
You can see around me on the walls all kinds of surfaces and all kinds of ways of manipulating
the materials. I think, probably, it drove some of the engineers
at Polaroid mad, because the artists were just ignoring the rules and just making it
up. JARED BOWEN: Here at the MIT Museum in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, just a few blocks away from where the Polaroid camera was invented, are
decades of Polaroids. Virtually from the day it was born, artists
were given cameras and film to experiment, says curator William Ewing, starting with
Ansel Adams. WILLIAM EWING: He was the bait. Ansel gets very excited at times. He said, oh, you should use it. They should use it in the theater. You should use it in astronomy. He gets really excited. JARED BOWEN: The Polaroid camera bypassed
the entire process of developing film. For the first time ever, artists had an immediate
look at their work. WILLIAM EWING: It was a very small thing you
could hold in the hand, but you had to participate in the making of the picture. The thing whirred and clicked. The picture came out and developed slowly. And that was described as magic. DEBORAH DOUGLAS, Director of Collections,
MIT Museum: I’m going to take a picture now, Jared. JARED BOWEN: Do you want me to pose for you? DEBORAH DOUGLAS: Yes, please. OK. (CAMERA CLICKING) DEBORAH DOUGLAS: OK. And it’s going to take probably 20 full minutes,
but that blue sheet is the opacification, and in a couple of minutes, this will emerge. So I’m going to take… JARED BOWEN: Twenty minutes? DEBORAH DOUGLAS: I know. It’s not an instant at all. (LAUGHTER) JARED BOWEN: Deborah Douglas is the purveyor
of Polaroid at the MIT Museum. The pioneer, though, was Edwin Land, owner
of an innovation lab who conceived of an instant camera in 1943 and launched it into top-secret
development. DEBORAH DOUGLAS: It’s called SX-70, S for
secret, X for experimental, and 70 because that’s the number. It could have been 68, 69, 71, 72. JARED BOWEN: The camera was an ingenious combination
of mechanics and chemistry. DEBORAH DOUGLAS: All the little molecules
are going around, and it says, oh, I need a red one here, a yellow one here, a blue
one here, and just like your television that can combine red, green, blue on your screen
and miraculously create the full spectrum. JARED BOWEN: The first Polaroid went on sale
in Boston the day after Thanksgiving, 1948. It sold out in hours. DEBORAH DOUGLAS: Land didn’t actually believe
in marketing. He was even skeptical of his own company’s
efforts in that front. He said, you just have to have a feel for
this. This proved, by the way, very influential
to a generation of entrepreneurs, most notably, Steve Jobs and Apple. JARED BOWEN: Well we’re sitting on this floor
right now that we would all recognize, wouldn’t we? DEBORAH DOUGLAS: Yes, there’s a rainbow stripe. And so it’s not coincidental that the first
Apple logos are rainbow stripes. That is an intentional homage to Edwin Land. JARED BOWEN: Of course, the cool quotient
came from the artists, who were given cameras and film to take the technology wherever they
wanted. TOM NORTON, Artist: It freed you up from all
those chemicals and the processes in the labs and everything else. You could control it all yourself. JARED BOWEN: Artist Tom Norton had his go
at Polaroid in the early 1980s. TOM NORTON: It’s a vertical format. And I didn’t want that. I want dancers to be jumping left-right. And so the only way to do that is to have
a mirror system, so I made a mirror system that the camera was actually facing sideways. JARED BOWEN: Elsa Dorfman would use the Polaroid
for portraiture. With Polaroid, Andy Warhol could be even more
prolific. And Barbara Crane could revel in color. WILLIAM EWING: These people felt they were
part of a community. They weren’t alone. So, you didn’t just do your photographs, bring
them to Polaroid, and forget about them. They would enter into the collection. JARED BOWEN: As we see here, in a history
and appreciation that’s still developing. Do we have to do something? Do we have to shake it? DEBORAH DOUGLAS: No, you don’t have to shake
it. In fact, the engineers hated that. (LAUGHTER) JARED BOWEN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jared
Bowen in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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