Polaroid Now: the History and Future of Polaroid Photography collects recent (2010s) work on expired Old Polaroid and Impossible/Originals New Polaroid stocks by rising (Insta)stars of the medium. There’s some killer work in it, for sure, and seeing the images larger in print—in this book, anyway—gives a slightly different impression than the images did when I first saw (some of them) on the ‘gram.
Steve Crist reprises his editor role from The Polaroid Book, and contributes a brief introductory essay. Given that I recently spent a week with the earlier book, I was stuck by a single line early on: “I stepped through the gates of the Polaroid Corporation in Waltham, Massachusetts, back in 2004.” Hummm… Strange. In The Polaroid Book, which came out in 2004, he says “… I first visited the Polaroid Collections in the fall of 2003.”
Memory is notoriously fickle, and maybe the Polaroid Collections were held somewhere other than the Polaroid Corporation headquarters—I don’t think so, since he also mentions meeting with Barbara Hitchcock in both locations—and I don’t blame Crist for this error, and where was the copy editor, the fact checker?
This is a strange thing to lead a photobook review with, and more or less wholly immaterial to the rest of the book. Oh well. It’s the first thing that struck me, and the one that stuck with me most strongly, so….
The book opens with the picture of Andy Warhol holding an SX-70 with a selfie hanging out of its mouth that everyone knows. Actually, this picture is on the endpapers, so one could say the book opens and closes with now rather ancient history. Anyway. There’s Andy on the end papers, a page with the title on, two pages of pink, then Polaroid portraits of Debbie Harry and Jean-Michele Basquiat, two selfies by Keith Haring, a shot of Andy with a skull by Peter Beard, and a 9 image collage selfie by Chuck Close before you get to Crist’s essay.
After Crist, there are a couple of old ads and a shot of Polaroid iType boxes whizzing their way through a factory. Oskar Smolokowski recounts his early-ish involvement and thankfully mentions Doc Kaps in the process. Another picture of a Polaroid iType box— this time it’s being stuffed or sealed—follows, and then we’re in to the meat of the book: current (2010s) users of expired Old Polaroid, sketchy early Impossible Project, more stable Polaroid Originals, and (presumably) fairly rock solid New Polaroid films. Most of this work looks—to my eye—very much like it was made by very competent, if fairly new (and rather wealthy… or sponsored) users of the medium, users that cut their teeth on Hipstamatic and the like.
I don’t begrudge. Hipstamatic and an iPhone 4 got me interested (again) in photography after many years away, and we all take inspiration from wherever we find it.
This work looks great, and no question, and still I’m bothered by some of it. Much of it makes great use of the materiality of polaroid images, largely by destroying the print somehow: there are only a few emulsion lifts, but the emulsions lifted number more than a hundred (I’m guessing); many artists peel the layers apart and somehow show the color image with the border from the backside of the image, framing it like that Hipstamatic “film” I can’t recall the name of, but used with abandon in the 2011/12 timeframe; others are painted on or stitched or whatever, and in writing that, I remember seeing the stitched one on Insta in the mid 2010s.
Thinking about it now, and comparing the pictures in Polaroid Now to those in The Polaroid Book, there’s a sort of nostalgia for both the materiality of analog media and the look of Old Polaroid at work in these, and it all seems as much about likes and all than anything else, really. Maybe I’m jaded… I’m definitely feeling rushed (good old WordPress lost 4 paragraphs and I have 7 minutes to finish this before publication time), so I don’t really know what I’m trying to say except that I’m a bit ambivalent about Polaroid Now.
Used copies of Polaroid Now go for about 90% of what you can find new copies for, so maybe others are a bit ambivalent about it too? That, and it is a mass market book with many thousands of copies out there, so…. There is surely and certainly some inspirational and excellent work in the book, and if you’re interested in Polaroid media, then it’s worth picking up, if only for getting a good list of active Instagrammers using Polaroid.
And that’s probably what bothers me most, and I have to just leave it at that, with apologies.