INSTANT The Story of Polaroid
By Christopher Bonanos Princeton Architectural Press. 192 pp. $24.95
Before young entrepreneurs wanted to be like Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs wanted to be like Edwin Land. Like Jobs, the Polaroid founder overflowed with brilliance, built a tech company with cult-like followers, held eloquent reveals of new products, and even dropped out of college. Christopher Bonanos’s “Instant” tells the story of the forgotten genius who turned Polaroid into a cultural phenomenon.
Land and his team were the first to give photography the magic of instant gratification. The ease of use appealed to amateurs, but also was beloved by some big names. Polaroid created Type 55 film for legendary wilderness photographer Ansel Adams, so the camera would spit out not only a print but also a negative, allowing for a photo to be archived and reproduced. On the other side of the spectrum was Andy Warhol, who made thousands of harshly lit Polaroid portraits of unraveled celebrities. Robert Mapplethorpe shot unbridled erotica that would have had him in handcuffs if he had sent his film to a lab for development.
For all his brilliance, Land did not groom a strong successor to ensure the continuation of Polaroid’s legacy. And the company failed to continue innovating ahead of the curve, missing the digital wave. Although the company suffered a bloody dismemberment in the 1990s, the name Polaroid still evokes a warm and fuzzy feeling.