The digital age of photography owes a great deal to Edwin Land, creator of the instant image, or the Polaroid. Actually, it was his young daughter who asked why it took so long to develop their vacation pictures. Upon hearing her question, Land apparently, had a eureka moment and turned his efforts away from the science of anti glare glass in cars to the chemistry of, instant image making. The key word is, “instant” and behind that lies, easy and to me the word fun is implied. This all sounds very familiar.
In fact it reminds me of the Selfie and the simplicity provided by smart phones and tablets. Apple could easily develop an advertising campaign based upon, the Land story and his daughters desire for a quick memory of her vacation. Similar to Apple, the Polaroid camera system dominated instant and family photography from the 1960’s until the emergence of the digital age in the late 1990’s. On October 11, 2001, the company declared bankruptcy, ending one of the most successful runs in photographic history. Eastman Kodak, also an important company in photography, mostly made film. It was Polaroid, and the instant picture, that provided the, simple and quick image.
My father had a Polaroid Land camera and he took it everywhere. I remember his excitement when the timer was added to the new version. Then, he could take selfies and group shots that included him too. There was a problem though; how to share the pictures. Since each one was an original, it was impossible to share, except to lay the pictures out on a table for people to see. Sometimes he pinned pictures on the wall or stuck them to the fridge. The quality was bad and the images were pretty small. Still, this was an instant image and it had a unique look. Really, the images on Instragram are very similar in tone, colour saturation and with soft focus.
Apparently, the fine art and commercial photographers also saw the value of inherent in the Polaroid. The famous, photojournalist, Annie Liebovitz took one of the most iconic images in Rock music, using a Polariod. She described the experience in a PBS Documentary;
“In 1980 Rolling Stone sent Leibovitz to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had recently released their album “Double Fantasy.” For the portrait Leibovitz imagined that the two would pose together nude. Lennon disrobed, but Ono refused to take off her pants. Leibovitz “was kinda disappointed,” according to Rolling Stone, and so she told Ono to leave her clothes on. “We took one Polaroid,” said Leibovitz, “and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”
You can read the complete transcript here;
The Leibovitz image was published in print form yet today it would be disseminated via social media and in several formats, or at least on Twitter and Instagram. The important point that links the Polaroid to social media and modern photography is the simplicity and immediacy offered by both formats. Smart phones and instant film are the ultimate in, simple and immediate. Social Media represents the missing link. While the polariod was quick, there was no way to share the experience that the image portrayed.
To me the Selfie is symbolic of the merger between, past photographic techniques and modern photo journalism. In the next blog post, I will offer some thoughts about social media and how the smart phone has both killed photo journaism and fine art photography and saved them.
As always, I’ll leave you with a few links that will be relevant to next weeks blog post;
Globe and Mail Photo Journalist, John Lehmann and the Smart phone in Documentary Photography.
Meet the top 15 Photographers on Instagram; Many use social media for business and art.