A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


A Polaroid On My Fridge
Saturday, March 21, 2009

I recall a sunny day in Santa Fe, N.M.[1944], when my little daughter [Jennifer, 3] asked why she could not see at once the picture I had just taken of her. As I walked around the charming town I undertook the task of solving the puzzle she had set me. Within an hour, the camera, the film and the physical chemistry became so clear to me.
Edwin Herbert Land

When I look at pictures of Edwin Land he is to me the personification of the brilliant inventor who had a soft spot for the desires of a child. This picture was taken by art photographer Naomi Savage who was a model for Man Ray.

That excitement that I first felt when I bought my Poloroid Land SX-70 in the middle 70s and the further delight of buying a Polaroid back for my Mamiya RB-67 in the 80s is a thrill that has not been matched by the purchase of any other photographic equipment since. And more so now. I have been lent a Canon EOS 20D digital single lens reflex camera of a month. I stare at it and feel frustrated that I cannot seem to be able to set the shutter speed and f-stops to my liking without reading the thick manual I will have to download from the web. All the other camera features are mostly useless to me. The camera is innert like a rare gas. It does not affect me emotionally. I feel distanced to it.

But I do understand now that the little LCD screen on the back of the camera that shows the "just taken" image may one day have to replace the Polaroid I have used all these years. My Polaroids have helped me make my subjects relax while assuring me that my camera and studio lights are all working in unison and correctly. The box you see here is the last from my supply. The film is now discontinued and I will replace it with the Fuji version.

I always smiled when I read in my National Geographic how some explorer/writer in the middle of head-hunting tribe in darkest Borneo would save himself from the pot by handing over a Polaroid. Would it be the same to show the back of your camera? Can you keep that image? Of course Polaroid is marketing a digital camera that does just that. It will print a little picture from a built-in printer.

Until the advent of the digital camera one of the biggest users of Polaroid cameras and film where the continuity people in movies. They would photograph the set and the costumes of the actors at the end of the day so they would not make mistakes on the next. Those Polaroids were then stuck in the actors' trailers or in the makeup booths. For years I have been giving away my Polaroids telling my subjects to put them up on their fridge.

It seemed appropriate that my subjects after posing for me would somehow take something of me with them home. Not all their soul was left as a latent image on my film. It felt good. Alas, Polaroid is no more! Will I now call them Fujiroids or stick to Edwin Land's memory and vision and call them Polaroids?

These are SX-70 Polaroids that I took between 1975 and 1977. The first is Hilary at the door of an old school on Cambie that was demolished soon after. That's Rosemary at the Space Needle in Seattle in 1975 and Ale and Hilary pose in their Mexican tops outside our house in Burnaby in the late 70s. That's me taken with a Polaroid back on my Mamiya. I don't recall the date nor who pressed the shutter.


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