The Polaroid SX-70

I feel strangely rejuvenated,” said the aging photographer Walker Evans after he began shooting pictures  with Polaroid’s SX-70 camera. The instant color camera, he argued, meant that for the first time “you can put a machine in an artist’s hand and have him then rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind.”

This was just the sort of response Edwin Land had hoped for. Ever since his first, famous snapshot o finspiration in 1943—when his three-year-old daughter Jennifer asked him why she could not see the image immediately—Land had sought “absolute one-step photography.” He introduced his first Polaroid Landcamera in 1948, but it would take a quarter of a century and $250 million in development costs to produce what he fervently believed was the ultimate realization of that ideal.

Introduced twenty years ago, in November of 1972, the SX-70 restored the magic to photography for thousands of amateurs and professionals alike—a magic that lay in the mystery of watching its image develop in plain sight, its depth of color, the sense of the print as a jewel-like object—a latter day heir of the daguerreotype.

…Each SX-70 print seemed to have what Land called a “depth in its shadows” corresponding to its dozen layers of dyes and other coatings. Polaroid endlessly reprinted a complex schematic diagram of those layers, like something from a geology text. The freedom of the system came from its limitations: like a sonnet or a sonata, the SX-70 picture possessed a firm set of conventions: fixed format, fixed size, fixed palette.

The camera was itself lovely, the last work of the great designer Henry Dreyfuss.

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