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Cannonball Read V: Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos

By genericwhitegirl | Book Reviews | February 6, 2013 | Comments ()


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When I got this book for Christmas, I thought it was a random pick. A book about Polaroid? I suppose I have an interest in photography, but isn't Polaroid a defunct, irrelevant company?

As it turns out, I quite enjoyed Instant: The Story of Polaroid. Besides being an easy, relatively quick read, it was compelling. Although chronicling the history of this company might sound mundane, it is anything but. The company was started in 1937 by visionary Edwin Land, a man that the author compares to Steve Jobs in many ways. Land was inspired, determined, and believed in perpetuating a creative work environment for his employees. He encouraged innovation, even if it meant employees just thought about an idea for a couple of months. He valued research and quality at the expense of saving money. He even had a department called, "miscellaneous reasearch." If that doesn't scream Batman gadgetry, I don't know what does.

What also makes the book engaging is that it begins with Polaroid's conception in the 1930′s and goes through its triumphs and struggles to today. It's fascinating to follow the company through such changing times - creatively, socially, and technologically. And it's ironic to see how Edwin Land's ideas, which were ahead of their time, were tied to a company later regarded as out-of-date.

If you are an art buff, this book may capture your interest. Polaroid was popular with artists like Ansel Adams, who was actually paid to test their products and give his feedback. Other artists and entertainers, like Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and The Talking Heads used Polaroid photos for album covers, collages, and other works. In an effort to revitalize the company, Lady Gaga signed on as their creative director in 2010! Then there are lesser known artists (at least to me) who had thought-provoking Polaroid works...artists like William Anastasi and Andrew Kertesz.

Did you also know besides using traditional Polaroid photos, several art forms emerged through Polaroid photography? Image transfers, emulsion lifts, and image distortion were popular ways to experiment with Polaroid's instant film technology. And did you know that there are a few phone booth sized Polaroid cameras (the 20×24) that produce pictures the size of cocktail tables?

Although I mentioned Polaroid as defunct, out-of-date, and irrelevant, it is coming back. Even after reading the book, I was surprised to see Polaroid's website, with all kinds of digital devices. I suppose the story doesn't stop with the book...If any of this sounds interesting to you, then I'd encourage you to check out the book. A solid recommend from me.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of genericwhitegirl's reviews, check out her blog, The B List.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links
in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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  • idiosynchronic

    It's interesting that Polaroid's moment of success - winning it's landmark 1986 patent-infringement lawsuit against Kodak - is seen as the high water mark for the company. The slide into irrelevance came first with the advent of cheap, instant and high-quality 1- hour photo processing *everywhere*; then digital photography killed the battered and bruised company. My dad, an inveterate camera collector, still loves showing off his 'illegal' Kodak instant camera along with his Soviet-manufactured cams.

  • idiosynchronic
  • Karen

    My Dad worked for Polaroid for....30-40 years. It was such a great company, they treated their people right.... Until the FLucked them all hard...sidewayz

  • BWeaves

    I would think there would be a market for the old style Polaroid camera. I take digital photos now, which I NEVER print. I have years of photo albums that I look back on fondly, and then the last few years, nothing. I take photos, and never print them. At least with a Polaroid, you've got the photo right now. Instant gratification.

    Funny story. About 20 years ago, some kids broke into some guys house and stole his stereo equipment. While they were there, they took photos of each other with his Polaroid camera. Since the photos take a few minutes to develop, the kids thought they were broken and left them on the coffee table. When the guy got home, there were smiling faces of the criminals looking up from his coffee table. The cops had an easy time tracking them down.

  • ljridley

    Some former employees bought the equipment, leased the former Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and basically have been reinventing Polaroid film (The Impossible Project. I haven't tried it yet, it's pretty expensive. There are some groups on Flickr where you can see what people are doing.

    Fuji also has instant cameras. Including a very cute Hello Kitty variety. Which I do not have.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    It definitely sounds interesting. As a child of the 60s, I thought Polaroid cameras were the coolest things in the world. I still have some old black and white photos taken from back then and they've held up as well if not better than the developed color prints. I'm glad to hear they're trying to re-invent themselves.

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