Here is a post that makes you think. The post in the Wall Street Journal Online by Christopher Bonanos says, “In the digital age, photo-taking and sharing have become not just instant but constant.” How Edwin Land shepherded the instant culture.
In 1970, Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid and the inventor of the instant camera, stood before a movie crew in a brand-new, empty factory, laying out the idea he had been cultivating for the preceding 25 years. Though his name is largely forgotten today, Land had a surprisingly prescient view of the future.
“We are still a long way,” he said, “from the…camera that would be, oh, like the telephone: something that you use all day long…a camera which you would use not on the occasion of parties only, or of trips only, or when your grandchildren came to see you, but a camera that you would use as often as your pencil or your eyeglasses.” It was going to be “something that was always with you,” he said; and it would be effortless. Point, shoot, see. Nothing mechanical would come between you and the image you wanted. The gesture would be as simple as—and here he demonstrated it, reaching into his coat—taking a wallet out of your breast pocket, holding it up and pressing a button.
Land’s future is our present, and what he described, pretty nearly, was a smartphone. The wallet he pulled out was black and oblong, and when you see him hold it vertically in front of his eye, it’s an uncannily familiar gesture. Land envisioned our being able to document our whole lives, building up an immense library—a wall-size memory bank that was, effectively, an analog Facebook page. He even went so far as to cook up instant-developing 8mm home-movie film, called Polavision. (It was a flop, arriving on the market well after video cameras had become widespread, but a remarkable technological achievement.)
In the digital age, photo-taking and sharing have become not just instant but constant. Last week, pictures of Hurricane Sandy dominated; this week, it was queued-up voters and the storm in the Northeast. For quite a few young people, an event undocumented is an event unlived. It’s easy to forget that a lifetime ago, in the late 1940s, almost nobody did this.
Back then, your camera went with you only on special occasions: a picnic, a birthday, a wedding. You then mailed your film to an Eastman Kodak processing plant in Rochester, N.Y., and got your prints back in a week. When the Polaroid Land camera was introduced in 1948—made possible by a series of breakthroughs and refinements, particularly in a process known as diffusion-transfer reversal—”pictures in a minute” were an instant success: The first batch of cameras, expected to meet consumer demand for weeks, sold out in hours. By the 1970s, when Polaroid introduced the SX-70 camera and became an ubiquitous part of the American landscape, a new breed of amateur photographer was shooting a billion photos a year.
It’s no wonder that Steve Jobs considered Land one of his first heroes and called him “a national treasure.” A generation ago, people talked about Land in the same breath with Thomas Edison. In the digital age all pictures are instant pictures. But one of the most significant things Polaroid invented was not merely a camera-and-film system but a particular kind of casual documentary photography.