Cloth: 978-0-226-17638-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-31216-3
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
Polaroid was often dismissed as a toy, but Buse takes it seriously, showing how it encouraged photographic play as well as new forms of artistic practice. Drawing on unprecedented access to the archives of the Polaroid Corporation, Buse reveals Polaroid as photography at its most intimate, where the photographer, photograph, and subject sit in close proximity in both time and space—making Polaroid not only the perfect party camera but also the tool for frankly salacious pictures taking.
Along the way, Buse tells the story of the Polaroid Corporation and its ultimately doomed hard-copy wager against the rising tide of digital imaging technology. He explores the continuities and the differences between Polaroid and digital, reflecting on what Polaroid can tell us about how we snap photos today. Richly illustrated, The Camera Does the Rest will delight historians, art critics, analog fanatics, photographers, and all those who miss the thrill of waiting to see what develops.
"The Camera Does the Rest has a richness of detail and language. Buse turns to myriad unconventional but vivid sources in his effort to resurrect just what it felt like to make, pose for, and view Polaroid images. This experience of instant photography is his true focus, and he addresses it from multiple, new, persuasive perspectives. In so doing, he makes the magic of the Polaroid moment vivid for those readers for whom that era is now a faint memory and for those readers too young to have experienced it. To my knowledge, the book has no peers in evoking the lost moments of Polaroid photography. While this alone makes it a mighty contribution to the study of visual culture, I would suggest that, in addition, the archeological approach Buse takes to his topic serves as an excellent model for scholars seeking in its archaeological approach, how to recuperate the novelty experienced when now familiar technologies were once new."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Illustrations
[Polaroid, Joycam, camera, play, technology, instant, vernacular]
The book begins at the end, with Polaroid's last camera, the Joycam, which it takes to be typical of Polaroid photography, because it encourages play rather than memory. It goes on to consider how the Polaroid camera "does the rest," as the early newspaper headlines put it. It describes how the instant photography process worked and explains that the book is concerned with the consequences not the chemistry of the process. Establishes that the book is a cultural history of a technology and the emphasis is primarily on Polaroid as a popular snapshot form (although touching on its practical and artistic applications), and that it is not a biography of Edwin Land, nor a history of Polaroid Corporation. (pages 1 - 24)
1. Just a Toy
[Polaroid, play, snapshot, Barthes, toys, memory, Kodak, Swinger camera, I-Zone camera]
This chapter begins with the founding story of Polaroid photography: the impatience of Edwin Land's daughter Jennifer in 1943 to see a photo immediately after it was taken. The story is used as a way to introduce Polaroid's longstanding association with children and play, and its difference from the traditional Kodak model in which the snapshot is a tool of memory. Taking the Swinger and the I-Zone as key examples, the chapter shows how the cameras were consistently presented by Polaroid as toys, confirming Roland Barthes dismissal of them as merely for "fun." It then argues that "toy" need not have negative connotations, but that play often meant experimentation. Gives examples of such experimentation, concluding with the camera's notoriety for making sexually explicit images. (pages 25 - 50)
2. Intimate, One of a Kind
[Polaroid, photography, saturation, singularity, speed, darkroom, intimacy, sex]
This chapter asks what was different about Polaroid as a photographic technology--what distinguished it from other kinds of photography. It considers some of the standard answers, such as the saturation of the image and its singularity, crediting the latter more than the former, and proposes that Polaroid is in many ways a "perverse" technology (because it does not allow for copying, and requires larger cameras when cameras have historically gotten smaller). It argues that the combination of speed, singularity, and elimination of the darkroom are what distinguish Polaroid, and that together these make it an "intimate" form, where the photographer, photograph and photographed are in close proximity in time and space. Implications of this are explored, including the "sexual Polaroid," evidence of which comes mostly from literature, film and popular culture. (pages 51 - 74)
3. Polaroid and Digital
[Polaroid, digital, photography, Captiva camera, apps, snapshots, obscenity, social Media]
This chapter begins by tracing Polaroid's ill-fated digital strategy in the 1980s and 1990s, taking as a key example the Captiva, an analogue camera that anticipated aspects of digital photography. While noting that digital was what made Polaroid obsolete, the chapter notes the return of Polaroid in ads and applications, and considers how there is more to this this phenomenon than simply nostalgia. The last part of the chapter examines the ways in which Polaroid and digital snapshooting habits overlap in many ways, because they both yield an image quickly and without the need of a darkroom. It summarises the shared practices of digital and Polaroid under the rubrics of feedback, obscenity, and exchange, suggesting how these are shared with social media. It also takes account of the major difference: Polaroid makes a single copy, digital an infinite number. (pages 75 - 104)
4. Polaroid Attractions
[photo-materialism, Batchen, Edwards, party, Polaroid, photography, attractions, Tom Gunning, Edwin Land, Ted Serios]
This chapter uses the work of photo-materialists such as Batchen and Edwards as a way to think about Polaroid's use as a party camera. Drawing on Gunning's concept of cinematic and technological "attractions," it shows how this aspect of Polaroid extends well beyond parties. It takes in Polaroid's qualities as an "ice-breaker" in making new friends, as well as the ways in which the company considered the camera "one of the most demonstrable products in the world," showing it off at the Moscow world's fair and pushing it in theme parks and at other tourist attractions. The chapter finishes with two studies of Polaroid showmen who used the camera as magical attractions--Edwin Land, who amazed shareholders at annual events; and Ted Serios, psychic photographer, who astonished at parties in Colorado by apparently taking photos with his mind with a Polaroid camera. (pages 105 - 142)
5. Polaroid Values
[Polaroid, photography, amateur, Cambridge, value, magazines, Wegman]
What were the wider reputational consequences of making "fun" party cameras? This chapter examines how Polaroid photography was greeted by professional photographers photographic magazines, and the ways in which it was a victim of its own success, and often scorned by serious photographers. The chapter shows how this clashed with Polaroid's own ambitions and self-image as a research-driven, Cambridge-based company. It then demonstrates the ways in which Polaroid combatted the criticism from photo-experts, by presenting its cameras as "prestige" products and by building links with Museums; but that such strategies went hand-in-hand with the promotion of Polaroid photography as an amateur system requiring little skill. The result: a mix of high and low culture which often resulted in kitsch, even in Polaroid artwork by photographers such as William Wegman. (pages 143 - 168)
6. Just for Snapshots?
[Polaroid, photography, art, Aperture magazine, Ansel Adams, Minor White]
This chapter explores some of Polaroid's attempts to move beyond the snapshot business into more serious, culturally valued fields. Edwin Land from the beginning claimed that Polaroid photography brought together aesthetics and utility. The company made major contributions to practical applications of photography and it also employed art photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White to test its new products, as well as giving generous financial support to art photography, especially in the 1970s and 80s. Whether it succeeded in bringing together the aesthetic and the useful is another question, and one which is tested in this chapter. Art photography has generally been defined by its separation from utility, and the three case studies presented here--of Polaroid's work with the magazine Aperture; of the kinds of images it made use of in its Annual reports; and of its own magazine Close-Up--suggest that Polaroid sometimes simply reproduced that standard separation, but on occasion also anticipated a time when the art photograph would no longer be treated in isolation from other photographies. (pages 169 - 206)
[Polaroid, bankruptcy, Petters, Fuji, Kaps, Impossible Project, digital, analogue, photography]
Brings the narrative to a close by recounting the bankruptcies and sales of Polaroid Corporation in the 2000s, in which it was above all the company's name that was valued by buyers such as Tom Petters. It goes on to tell the story of Florian Kaps and his company, the Impossible Project, and its reinvention of instant analogue film, revisiting in the process the pleasures of Polaroid play, as well as the ways in which the analogue takes on a new value in the digital era. (pages 207 - 222)