written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/15/2011
The history of Polaroid photography is pretty much the history of instant photography. The person who started it all was Dr. Edwin Land who was an American physicist.
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The history of Polaroid photography begins with the discovery of the concept of light polarization. This concept existed for a few hundred years before Dr. Edwin Land found a way to use it in the development of instant photography.
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Polaroid photography owes its existence to the discovery of the polarization of light. This polarization of light was discovered in 1669 by Erasmus Bartholin when he saw two images of a single object viewed through a rotating crystal. An explanation to this phenomenon was given 150 years later by Thomas Young. This explanation was applied to the creation of the Nicol prism by William Nicol. This prism was made of two crystals of Iceland that separates light rays at right angles. It was then used to understand different elements and aspects of chemistry.
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Dr. Edwin Land
Dr. Edwin Land was an American physicist. He worked on the concept of the polarization of light that led him to invent a polarization filter that would help camera lenses in eliminating glare and reflection. In 1929, he came up with a way to polarize light without the use of crystals, and from there, he developed products largely related to photography. His research and development of sheet polarization filters eventually gave him enough traction to build a company in 1937 and it was called Polaroid Corporation. The company manufactured lamps, sunglasses and of course, filters.
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The company introduced several products during the second world war like sighting mechanisms and polarized goggles. Development of photography-related products slowed down during the war but after that, development continued, leading to the introduction of instant photography in 1947. The first instant camera, called Polaroid Model 95, was introduced in 1948 and it sold out quickly.
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With sales continuously going up, different camera models were introduced including the Model 110, the Model 80 and the Model 700. Along with these cameras, different kinds of films were also introduced like Types 31, 32, 41, 42 and 43. By 1956, over one million cameras were sold. Towards the end of the decade, more camera models were developed and introduced, leading to the first automatic exposure camera called the Model 900.
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Automatic cameras were continuously being developed during the 60's, including automatic 100-series cameras and the professional level cameras like the Model 180. In 1965, the very first instant portrait was introduced and it changed the passport photo business, and other businesses that depend on developing photos quickly, forever.
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Instant photography was more popular than ever and Polaroid was the king. Since the beginning, Polaroid cameras used pee-apart technology that was wet, thanks to the process of chemicals joining with photo paper as images are taken. In the early part of the decade, 1972 specifically, this wet development process was replaced by a dry development process that involved developing film using light. The SX-70 camera was the first model to introduce this dry development process. By the end of the decade, Polaroid cameras were already using auto-focus technology.
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The 1980's and Beyond
Dr. Land left the Polaroid Company in 1982, but the company pushed forward in developing cameras aimed at instant photography. Different cameras that sported different technologies like the Spectra System, high definition grid film and transparent cameras. Polaroid photography started to use celebrities to endorse their cameras to appeal to the public which was losing interest in instant photography, thanks to the emergence of digital photography. This loss of interest seems unstoppable as more and more people are losing interest in Polaroid cameras and leaning towards digital cameras. The Polaroid company eventually saw that using instant film cameras is no longer a preference for most consumers. The company ceased the production of all instant film cameras in 2009. The history of Polaroid photography is in no way over. In 2011, Lady Gaga was hired as the company's creative director to develop new products like printers.