“Artists Lament Polaroid’s Latest Development” on NRP Tonight

I encourage of all of you listen to the piece on NPR’s All Things Considered that aired this afternoon about how artists are responding to the news from Polaroid that they are ceasing production of their film products. You can link to the five minute segment here but don’t miss the web page on the story, either. On the homepage for NPR you can also click to view/listen to a short slide show of Polaroid images reported, photographed and produced by NPR’s Heidi Glenn. Click here to hear an earlier NPR piece (2/16/08), this time by Scott Simon on Morning Edition Saturday: “Polaroid Stops Producing Film.”

The Polaroid Corporation has been a strong supporter of artists, their vision and their craft, very nearly since its beginnings.

If you haven’t been to the Polaroid website, you must – there is a historical piece called “Art and Technology” here, telling the history of this unique invention which went to market in 1948. I have quoted a short section here: “For some people, Polaroid photography means snapshot photography — capturing special moments during a family celebration or creating a record for a more utilitarian purpose. But for many renowned and emerging photographers, Polaroid photography is much more. It is the artistic medium of choice for artists, educators and commercial photographers who rely on Polaroid films in an abundance of creative and innovative ways. The works displayed here mark only a few important advances made in Polaroid photographic science and symbolize five decades of artistic inventiveness.

Additionally, there are many on-line exhibitions of work by artists for whom Polaroid cameras and film have been at the center of their creative toolbox, such as Anna Tomczak, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Vaughn Sills and Ellen Carey, among many others.

I have to say when I think of Polaroid I immediately think of their Artist Support Program headed by Barbara Hitchcock which has been a model for supporting the making of images while building a corporate collection. Cultural Affairs Director and Curator, Polaroid Collection, Barbara was honored with the Beacon Award at the first annual Focus Awards (2006) at the Griffin Museum. From the “Artist Support” section on the Polaroid Collection area of the website: The Artist Support Program is designed for the mutual benefit of all parties: artists receive support and exposure, the viewing public gains access to a richly creative body of work, and the Corporation gains feedback, publicity, and sales for its products. Photographers are given small film and equipment grants and asked to provide Polaroid with one image per grant for the Collection. Exhibitions are created periodically from the Collection and toured throughout the international museum circuit, publicity is generated, portfolios are printed in the media, and books are published. Since 1973, more than 40 exhibitions have been exhibited, including, Aigner’s Paris, From My Window (André Kertész),Lucas Samaras: Polaroid Photographs, 1969-1983, and Legacy of Light. In addition to generating positive publicity for the corporation, exhibitions like these illustrate the quality and creative potential of Polaroid films to a wide audience.

Ansel Adams was a great friend of Edwin Land, the company’s founder, and worked closely with Dr. Land over his lifetime; Hitchcock, along with Linda Benedict-Jones, Director of the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburg organized an exhibition celebrating their facinating collaborations. From the Polaroid website:

In 1948, Adams became a consultant to Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid instant photography system, for whom he rigorously tested new films and products. Throughout the ensuing 35 years, Adams took hundreds of instant photographs and wrote thousands of letters and memoranda to report his findings and recommendations to Polaroid. The photographs that are presented in this exhibition, many of which have never before been shown, are culled from this extensive body of work housed at the Polaroid Collections and Archives in Massachusetts.

This Ansel Adams exhibition features more than 80 prints, including vintage enlargements of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 and Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1960, as well as murals. Also featured are the pristine, one-of-a-kind, Polaroid black-and-white prints, rare color photographs and an example of Adams’ commercial work.

Barbara Hitchcock organized many more exhibitions, and contributed to many publication on the art and science of Polaroid. Among her most recent books is The Polaroid Book published in 2005 by Taschen which featured a unique cover design – that similar to the Polaroid Film packaging.

John Reuter is also to be celebrated within Polaroid’s collaboration with artists, beginning his career with Polaroid in 1978 as a research photographer and later became the director of the 20″x24″ studio in NYC where he aided countless photographers achieve their creative goals with the tools he knew so well. In 1997, the Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Silver Eye hosted an exhibition of 20×24 Polaroid images from Reuter’s personal collection: “John Reuter, Collaborations and Investigations” – click here to read the text that John wrote that was displayed during the exhibition; it provides great insight into the explorations by artists participating in Polaroid’s Artist Support Program such as Rosamund Purcell and Olivia Parker. John has created an extraordinary body of work himself, utilizing Polaroid materials in tandem with expert craft and contemporary technology to bring his images to life. You can see his on his website.

Here is a press release dated October 25, 2006 announcing the donation of the Polaroid Corporate Archives (1.5 million items) to the Harvard Business School Library which I found on the website www.stockphototalk.com

It is my strong hope that other corporations in our industry will follow Polaroid’s lead and celebrate the imagery that is in part the result of artists buying their products through grants of materials and acquisition of their completed works.

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1 Comment »

  1. [...] I encourage you to view this earlier post on Polaroid’s forthcoming demise, within which I wrote about the corporation’s [...]

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