Making a Comeback?
By Jim Corn;eld
From Polaroid to Impossible/Masterpieces of
Instant Photography—the Westlicht Collection
Edited by Achim Heine, Rebekka Reuter & Ulrike
Willingmann/Text in English and German
Hatje Cantz Verlag
PHOTO © PAUL HUF
J udging from the response Edwin H. Land elicited with the introduction of instant photography in 1948, he might as well have invented the wheel or discovered gravity. This was one of those chartbuster moments in the history of human innovation—a tsunami in the international press,
front-page story in The New York Times, a spread in LIFE magazine and an immediate, one-day sellout of every Polaroid camera
that came off the production line.
To anyone raised on digital imaging, the need for this technology probably seems laughable today, but yes, there was a time
when you had to wait for your pictures to come out of a lab—
your own darkroom or someone else’s. Land condensed the arc
between image capture and print into a kind of instantaneous
alchemy that worked its magic on the spot, between the layers of
a film-and-paper manifold. The corporate behemoth that grew
from this idea is legendary, and so were many of the additions
to the product line that regularly popped up on Land’s drawing
board. These reached their zenith in 1972, when Polaroid introduced its magnum opus, the so-called integral film system, with
its foldable compact SLR, the SX- 70.
Even with its immense popularity, the SX- 70 wasn’t enough to
stave off the economic woes that eventually strangled Polaroid.
The digital juggernaut would have that effect on a lot of traditional
“wet” imaging technology. By 2008, Polaroid films were a thing of
the past...or so it seemed. At the factory’s closing ceremonies, a
pair of entrepreneurs, Florian Kaps and André Bosman, pooled
their nerve and their resources to launch a firm dedicated to
reviving the manufacture of instant films for use in existing Po-
laroid cameras. They named their dicey venture “The Impossible
Project;” thus the quirky title of a newly released photography
collection, From Polaroid to Impossible: Masterpieces of Instant
Photography—the WestLicht Collection.