Art and cities

Polaroid for life

Digital photography? You want to spend a few hundred quid on a camera that doesn't even give you a picture in your hand until you've downloaded it to your PC and then printed it on your rubbish (or very expensive) colour printer? Go ahead. But I'm sure I'm happier with my Polaroid 600 camera, which cost 25 (including film pack). The prints are instant, which means that each one is a unique artefact. Your photo is not a print of a negative which exists elsewhere; it is the one and only. And they are square, which is a lovely shape for a photo.

This is from the Argos website -- a Polaroid camera (with film) for £24.50. If you buy the film as two packs of ten from Argos (£17), that's 85p per photo. Which may seem rather expensive. But Polaroids are very nice things.

Some history. On 21 February 1947, Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid Corporation, demonstrated instant photography to the Optical Society of America. The first commercially-available instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95, was in the shops before Christmas of the following year. The first films were sepia-tone; black-and-white Polaroid film was introduced in 1950, but colour film didn't appear until 1963.

Since then, Polaroid has slowly honed its range of popular instant cameras. In 1977, the OneStep Land Camera was a huge hit, and for four years was the biggest-selling camera of any type in the world. Throughout the 1990s, Polaroid have made 600 series cameras which have varied in outward appearance very slightly, but have a similar basic design and always cost 25 from Argos, regardless of economic conditions. See also new Polaroid innovations below.

Throughout its history, Polaroid has given resources to photographer-artists in exchange for feedback about its products. The first of these, landscape photographer Ansel Adams, was hired by Edwin Land as a consultant in 1948. In his autobiography, Adams recalled that Land was "convinced that images can be as effective as words, and that every person has a latent ability to make effective contact with another through visual statements" (1985: 297).

Since each polaroid picture is unique, people over the years have taken to experimenting with their photographs, manipulating the 'canvas' with chemicals, extreme heat and light, pointy objects, drugs, etc.

The 'artist's studio' part of the Polaroid website tells you about some of this. There is also a nice book, Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography (Abrams, 1999), for interested people to gaze at.

Web-minded people can always scan their polaroids, so that they can be digitally manipulated, put on the Web, or whatever. If you don't have a scanner yourself, libraries, colleges and community centres have them, or reprographics shops will charge you an annoying but relatively small amount of money for scanning.

The cost of a non-crummy digital camera is about 300. The cost of a Polaroid camera plus a scanner is about 100, and you can use the scanner for lots of other things too. And you have nice Polaroids to put on your wall.

New polaroid innovations

In 1998, Polaroid introduced a cheapish disposable camera, which you use once and then send back to Polaroid for recycling. In keeping with the trash-oriented theme, though, I fear that the idea itself is rubbish -- you might as well have a cheapish reusable camera.

And happily in 1999, they introduced the Polaroid JoyCam which is 14.99 for the camera and 5.99 for a film (10 photographs). I got one the other day and it's very nice -- lighter and easier to carry round than its chunky brothers, and although the photos aren't square, they're good, especially for portraits outdoors.

Polaroids February 2000

Nine daffodil polaroids
Polaroid 600 film
8.8 x 10.7 cm, x 9


Polaroids September 99


Colour of light 1 (blue)
Polaroid 600 film
8.8 x 10.7 cm


Colour of light 2 (magenta)
Polaroid 600 film
8.8 x 10.7 cm


Colour of light 3 (mixed)
Polaroid 600 film
8.8 x 10.7 cm