Polaroid’s History Gets Captured in a Gorgeous Photo Book
The Impossible Project's co-founder Florian Kaps charts the path of 'the magical material' known as Polaroid film.
Image courtesy Eva Mühlbacher. Other images courtesy the artists, Quarto and The Impossible Project
Just as the final nails were being driven into the Polaroid company in 2008, instant analog photography was given a new lease on life. A group that included Florian Kaps, André Bosman and Marwan Saba founded The Impossible Project to manufacture the materials for Polaroid cameras. In the years since, Impossible has steadily expanded. They have even introduced a new instant analog camera, the I-1, which comes with Bluetooth for social media connectivity.
But Kaps, who stepped away from day-to-day involvement in Impossible a few years ago, is still in love with instant analog. And in his new book, Polaroid: The Magic Material, Kaps digs into the magic behind the film format.
The book, a 256-page hardcover published by Quarto, features over 250 beautiful and striking color and black and white Polaroid photographs, which cut through fine art, erotica, abstract imagery, fashion, anthropology and other topics and approaches. While it’s a celebration of the instant image, Kaps’ book is also the story of Polaroid and its evolution from its development in the 1940s to Impossible Project moving into Polaroid’s factory and taking up its photographic cause.
Kaps tells The Creator Project that he wants people to fall in love with this “amazing magic material.” To do this, Kaps introduces readers to instant photography creator Edwin Land, who co-founded the company that would become Polaroid in 1932. Land was inspired to create instant analog photography by his daughter, who asked if she could see a photo taken of her immediately after exposure.
“He explained to her that the photo still needed to be developed, but that didn't comfort her,” Kaps says. “This incident inspired Land to start developing an instant photo system.”
Land presented instant photography to the New York public in 1947 in the form of some handmade 8x10-inch images created using a standard large format camera with external hand-built rollers. As Kaps says, it took almost two years before Land’s efforts produced the first real instant film system, which included instant roll film and the very first instant Land Camera, introduced in Boston.
“At the time Land developed his instant photography system, Polaroid already had been a profitable company for many years,” Kaps explains. “Starting with the production of polarization foils, the famous sunglasses and many other products, the majority of them supporting the government during the second world war. [So] Land was able to fund this project out of his own pocket.”
“Land was an incredible visionary,” he adds. “The magic of his own material did not surprise him at all, but he very carefully had planned this and worked for this aesthetic day and night for decades.”
The book contains a photo and information about the so-called “first Polaroid.” As Kaps explains, the first Polaroid was a lab test. As such, it hardly reveals an image, instead showing a strange looking chemical reaction. Kaps says that readers will “find some beautiful examples of these very early experimental lab pictures made from Land and his team, fighting for a final solution to create stable Polaroids.”
Another curiosity included in the book are “Thoughtographs.” These works, Kaps explains, were explorations of the possibility that thoughts could be transferred onto Polaroid film—that real images could be created just by imagining them.
While Polaroid: The Magic Material also features work from notable artists and photographers like Andy Warhol, Araki, Chuck Close, and Ansel Adams, the book is notable for the striking work of average people. Somewhat like smartphone cameras, Polaroid cameras were able to democratize photographic artistry.
“This book hopefully proves that the very best and most important Polaroids have not been taken by ‘photographers’ but by very normal people like you and me,” says Kaps. “I always try my very best to avoid judging which pictures are good and which are bad.”
Now that Kaps has helped preserve and revive the instant analog photograph and published a book on Polaroid’s history, he hopes that the film format sticks around for “eternity.” He’d like nothing more than giving future generations the chance “to experience the magic, unpredictability, aesthetics, and non-reproducibility of analog instant photography, using it for all sorts of ideas and projects that can come from a creative mind.”
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