Polaroid, the tacky, surreal, expensive1 but instant alternative to boring photography. The company became a household name in the seventies and ever since, artists have loved the fact that they can take quick, unpretentious, casual shots with heightened colour and a slightly unreal air. The inventor of Polaroid instant photography, Dr Edwin H Land, marketed his first instant camera in 1948. He had come up with a process whereby coloured dyes pass from a negative on to film inside a type of sealed unit, producing a positive print in about a minute. Artists gave his invention legitimacy and elegance. Its popularity was heightened by the advent of conceptual art and its rebellion against fine media. The artist Lucas Samaras used the Polaroid to make overtly fictional and fantastical images.

Other artists who became Polaroid junkies are William Wegman, Chuck Close, Marie Cosindas and David Hockney. And who can forget Andy Warhol? Whenever somebody walked into his Factory, he’d ask him to take his pants off so that he could photograph his genitals. His Polaroid camera was ever present during the seventies and eighties, he used it to take happy snaps at Studio 54 and practically every Manhattan social event. Warhol’s society portraits of the 1970’s were made from his own Polaroids.

The Polaroid company catalogued these artists’ work in the official Polaroid Collection of Art, which includes 20 000 works. These are housed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lausanne and at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.

Alas, Polaroid photography is now history. Digital photography has now superceded what was once regarded as one of the 'Nifty Fifty' safest US investments. Last week, the company filed for bankruptcy.

1Let it be noted that while Polaroid film is expensive in contrast to film the everyday person buys, it was also very very inexpensive for an artist, who uses the highest quality photographic equipment ordinarily.
Information obtained from The Guardian.

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