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How Polaroid Changed the World of Photography: An Insightful Book on the History and Legacy of Instant Cameras

Instant: The Story of Polaroid

If you grew up in the 60s or 70s, chances are you have fond memories of snapping photos with a Polaroid camera and watching them develop in front of your eyes. Polaroid was more than just a camera company; it was a symbol of creativity, innovation, and fun. But how did this iconic brand come to be? And what happened to it in the era of digital photography?

Instant The Story of Polaroid.pdf

In this article, we will review the book Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos, a journalist and a longtime Polaroid enthusiast. The book tells the remarkable tale of Polaroid's rise, fall, and resurrection, from its humble beginnings in a garage to its billion-dollar pop-culture phenomenon status, to its dramatic decline into bankruptcy, to its unlikely comeback in the 21st century. Along the way, we will learn about the visionary genius behind Polaroid, Edwin Land, and his one-of-a-kind invention that changed the way we see the world.

The Rise of Polaroid

Polaroid was founded in 1937 by Edwin Land, a Harvard dropout who had a passion for science and invention. Land was fascinated by light and vision, and he wanted to create a new kind of polarizing filter that could reduce glare and enhance colors. He succeeded in making his first prototype in his own kitchen, using a pair of scissors, a needle, and some cellophane. He then patented his invention and started selling polarized sunglasses, goggles, and lenses to various industries.

But Land's true ambition was to create something even more revolutionary: instant photography. He envisioned a camera that could produce a finished picture within seconds, without any darkroom or chemicals. He worked tirelessly on his idea for years, experimenting with different materials and processes. He finally achieved his breakthrough in 1947, when he demonstrated his first instant camera to a stunned audience at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera was called the Land Camera Model 95, and it used a special film that contained all the necessary layers for developing and fixing an image. The film was ejected from the camera after exposure, and peeled apart after 60 seconds to reveal a positive print.

The public was amazed by Land's invention, and soon there was a huge demand for his instant cameras and films. Land founded the Polaroid Corporation to mass-produce his products, and he hired a team of talented scientists and engineers to help him improve them. He also established a culture of innovation and excellence at Polaroid, encouraging his employees to pursue their own ideas and experiments. He believed that "the most important thing about power is to empower others."

The Golden Age of Polaroid

From the late 1940s to the early 1980s, Polaroid was the coolest technology company on earth. Like Apple, it was an innovation machine that cranked out one must-have product after another. It also had a loyal and passionate fan base, ranging from ordinary consumers to celebrities and artists. Polaroid was not just a camera company; it was a lifestyle brand that inspired creativity, spontaneity, and fun.

The Products

Some of the most popular and influential Polaroid products were:

  • The SX-70: Introduced in 1972, this was the first fully automatic, folding, single-lens reflex camera that used a new type of film that developed inside the camera without any peeling or coating. The SX-70 was a masterpiece of design and engineering, and it became an instant hit with the public. It also attracted the attention of artists such as Ansel Adams, who praised its artistic potential and worked as a consultant for Polaroid.

  • The OneStep: Launched in 1977, this was a simpler and cheaper version of the SX-70, aimed at the mass market. It had a fixed-focus lens and a built-in flash, and it used the same film as the SX-70. The OneStep was marketed with the slogan "Meet the Swinger", and it featured in a catchy jingle sung by Ali MacGraw. The OneStep was one of the best-selling cameras of all time, and it became a cultural icon of the 70s.

  • The Spectra: Debuted in 1986, this was a more advanced and sophisticated camera that used a new format of film that produced larger and sharper images. The Spectra had a variety of features and modes, such as autofocus, self-timer, remote control, and sound recording. The Spectra was designed to appeal to professionals and enthusiasts who wanted more control and quality from their instant photography.

The People

Polaroid also had a huge impact on the world of art and culture, as many famous and influential people used and loved its products. Some of them were:

  • Andy Warhol: The pop artist was one of the most prolific and famous Polaroid users, who used the medium to create portraits of himself and his friends, celebrities, and objects. He liked the instantaneity and intimacy of Polaroid, and he experimented with different cameras, films, and techniques. He once said, "A picture means I know where I was every minute. That's why I take pictures."

  • Chuck Close: The painter and photographer used Polaroid as a tool for his large-scale portraits of himself and others. He used a special 20x24 inch camera that produced huge prints that he then used as grids for his paintings. He also manipulated the Polaroid film to create abstract effects and patterns.

  • Helmut Newton: The fashion photographer used Polaroid as a way to test his lighting and composition before shooting with his regular camera. He also liked to keep his Polaroids as souvenirs of his shoots, and he published several books of his Polaroid work.

The Problems

However, Polaroid was not without its problems and challenges. Some of them were:

  • The Kodak lawsuit: In 1976, Kodak launched its own instant camera system, which directly competed with Polaroid's. Polaroid sued Kodak for patent infringement, claiming that Kodak had copied its technology and film. The lawsuit lasted for 14 years, until 1990, when Kodak was ordered to pay Polaroid $925 million in damages and to stop making and selling its instant products.

  • The environmental issues: Polaroid's film was not very eco-friendly, as it contained chemicals and metals that could pollute the environment if not disposed properly. Some activists and consumers criticized Polaroid for its waste and urged it to develop more green alternatives.

  • The digital disruption: In the late 80s and early 90s, digital photography emerged as a new threat to Polaroid's business model. Digital cameras offered many advantages over instant cameras, such as lower cost, higher quality, easier storage and sharing, and more editing options. Many consumers switched to digital cameras, while others lost interest in instant photography altogether.

The Fall of Polaroid

```html instant cameras and films. Polaroid also suffered from a lack of leadership and vision, as its founder Edwin Land had retired in 1982 and his successors failed to replicate his charisma and creativity. Polaroid also made some poor business decisions, such as selling off its valuable patents and assets, rejecting potential partnerships and acquisitions, and ignoring customer feedback and market trends. In 2001, Polaroid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, marking the end of an era.

The Resurrection of Polaroid

But Polaroid was not dead yet. In the 2000s, a new wave of interest and nostalgia for instant photography emerged, especially among younger generations who had grown up with digital cameras. Many people rediscovered the charm and magic of Polaroid, and started to collect, use, and share its vintage cameras and films. Some artists and celebrities also embraced Polaroid as a way to express their creativity and individuality.

However, there was a problem: Polaroid had stopped making its instant film in 2008, and the existing stock was running out fast. This prompted a group of former Polaroid employees and enthusiasts to form a company called The Impossible Project, which aimed to save instant film from extinction. They bought an old Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and started to produce new film for old cameras, using new materials and formulas. They also collaborated with Polaroid to create new cameras and accessories that were compatible with their film.

In 2017, The Impossible Project acquired the Polaroid brand and renamed itself as Polaroid Originals. It also launched a new camera called the OneStep 2, which was inspired by the original OneStep but updated with modern features. The company's mission was to bring back the original spirit of Polaroid and to make instant photography accessible and fun for everyone.

In 2020, Polaroid Originals rebranded itself again as simply Polaroid, to celebrate its 80th anniversary and to reaffirm its identity as the original instant photography company. It also introduced a new camera called the Polaroid Now, which offered improved image quality, autofocus, and battery life. It also released a new film format called i-Type, which was cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the previous ones.

Today, Polaroid continues to innovate and inspire with its products and services, such as the Polaroid Lab, which allows users to turn their digital photos into instant prints, and the Polaroid app, which offers filters, stickers, and editing tools to enhance their photos. Polaroid also collaborates with various artists, brands, and causes to promote its values of creativity, diversity, and social responsibility.


In this article, we have reviewed the book Instant: The Story of Polaroid by Christopher Bonanos, which tells the fascinating history of Polaroid from its inception to its resurrection. We have learned about the genius of Edwin Land and his invention of instant photography; the rise of Polaroid as a cultural phenomenon and a leader in innovation; the fall of Polaroid due to competition, mismanagement, and bankruptcy; and the resurrection of Polaroid thanks to a new generation of fans and entrepreneurs.

Polaroid is more than just a camera company; it is a story of American ingenuity, creativity, and resilience. It is also a story of how technology can shape our culture and our memories. As Bonanos writes in his book: "Instant photography is not merely a convenience; it is a way of seeing."


  • Q: When was Polaroid founded?A: Polaroid was founded in 1937 by Edwin Land.

  • Q: What was the first instant camera?A: The first instant camera was the Land Camera Model 95, which was introduced in 1948.

  • Q: What was the most popular Polaroid camera?A: The most popular Polaroid camera was the OneStep, which was launched in 1977.

  • Q: When did Polaroid file for bankruptcy?A: Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

  • Q: Who owns Polaroid now?A: Polaroid is now owned by a company called Polaroid BV, which was formerly known as The Impossible Project.



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