You wrote in your book that Ansel Adams and Walker Evans were interested in Polaroids before they even really caught on. What drew those earliest artists to Polaroid?
Adams wrote textbooks about how to make good pictures. ... He was really interested in the chemistry and technology parts of photography. So when he saw this system in a meeting with Land in 1949, he immediately understood what that amounted to. If you were shooting film in the late 1940s, unless you worked for a big news organization that had a lab on site, or you were in a big city with a fine arts community, chances are you were dropping your film in the mail and sending it to Kodak to be developed. And it took a week. But for this thing to work in 60 seconds, that changes your world. ...
So he met with Land early on, and immediately grasped the significance of the film. So the two of them got on; they really liked each other. Adams was a photographer who understood technology, and Land was a techie who was interested in photography as art, so they had lots to talk about.
So Polaroid cut out the middleman--the lab technician, and the week of waiting for the prints to come back, those were both eliminated. There's a fascinating part of your book about how that created a new kind of intimacy between photographers and subjects.
Oh, yes. There was a certain type of special photography that, people, ah--people really liked.
Totally. Sounds like sometimes it was playful, and sometimes it was a little incriminating.
Yeah. You could do anything you wanted--for better or for worse! It really was part of that scene, too. Just the other night I saw Boogie Nights on TV, and P.T. Anderson very consciously has Polaroid cameras pop up a few times, because it was part of that porn scene. And it also screams 1970, so just about any 1970s movie would have one.
Certain parts of that have the same feel as a modern-day sexting scandal--like when Woody Allen's affair with his stepdaughter was discovered thanks to a stack of nude Polaroids on his mantle.
Oh, yeah. One thing about it that's different, though, is because a Polaroid picture is unique, it's private in a special way. It can't escape. If you lock it in your desk drawer, it stays there! And that, arguably, may make people more willing to pose. Because if you do it with your camera phone, you are one tap away from releasing it to the entire Internet. And, this isn't my cup of tea, I'll tell you, but if I were to get involved in such a thing, I would be very twitchy about a digital photograph. With Polaroid, though, if you grab it coming out of the camera and put it in your pocket, it is yours.
But then again, Polaroid was all about the shared experience of photography.
Well, yes. That's true. It was shared in a lot of ways, though, too--kids responded to instant pictures, especially. My son is three and I take pictures of him all the time. He's seen me reveal pictures all the time, and he talks about them. He appreciates the experience, too.