Instant Hit

A photographer pays tribute to the Cambridge-born Polaroid camera.


Polaroid: The Magic Material by Florian Kaps

Published by Frances Lincoln, 256 pages, $30

In 1943, long before smartphones delivered instant pictures, Edwin Land developed the idea for Polaroid’s miraculous camera, responding to his daughter’s desire to see vacation photos right away. The camera he invented spat out an actual picture whose covering unpeeled like a Band-Aid—and voila!

Sadly, the original Cambridge-based company went bankrupt in the 2000s, and the new owners of its assets ceased producing Polaroid film. But Austrian photographer Florian Kaps and his collaborators set out to revive the medium, buying production machinery and calling the notion the Impossible Project. Here, Kaps lovingly charts Polaroid’s history and his own quirky enterprises that have helped keep this ever-evolving analog wonder alive.

The Polaroids in this book include experiments, some using crazy chemicals, high pressure, microwaving or complex layering techniques to produce photographs with an often dreamy aesthetic. Others, imitating the painter Rothko’s style of modern abstractions, come in hot, bright painterly colors that no digital clicker could deliver. A 1974 picture shows Andy Warhol being strangled and looking oddly amused. One surreal-looking shot has artist Max Rada Dada posed in a turban with dozens of little pictures swirling around his face, suggesting a kind of live action, though it’s happening in a still photo. Skeptical, but certainly fascinated, Kaps describes Chicago bellhop Ted Serios’ “thoughtography,” paranormal experiments that allegedly captured images wafting through his mind. Kaps’ own mischievous and creative experimentation is also on display, and his book reveals how this iconic camera continues to act like a soulful, imaginative paintbrush.

From Page 157: What has happened to the intimate, tingling world of private erotic photography initiated by Polaroid in 1948? As digital images have increased in number and detail, they have lost one important element that Polaroids always added to erotic photography: a deeply romantic and intimate touch that even the most explicit Polaroids always have.

Related Articles

Comments are closed.