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The Polaroid Project

A whir, a click, and just a few seconds later—without darkroom or negative—an instant photo appears in its familiar white frame as if by magic. Although there were Polaroid processes involving negatives, to most people the brand is associated with one-of-a-kind prints, a symbol of the unique, unrepeatable moment being captured. The charm of capturing the spontaneous and uncontrived together with the speed of processing made the Polaroid popular among amateurs and professionals alike. World-renowned artists shaped the aesthetic of an era through their use of instant photography. There was a palpable joy in experimentation, with cameras ranging from the classic SX-70 to large-format Polaroids that could be used to create abstract images, interior details, street scenes, landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits. Pop artist Andy Warhol’s affinity to the Polaroid should come as no surprise: the instant photo was ideally suited to the ephemeral worlds of consumer culture and fashion that he moved in and that he himself helped to define. Whereas Richard Hamilton retouched his painterly Polaroids, Dennis Hopper used the Polaroid to research his films—for example in the series, Colors, in which he documented the graffiti and street art scene in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Artists Anna and Bernhard Blume used instant photos not as individual snapshots but often as part of larger series of performative artist self-portraits. In its Artist Support Program, Polaroid furthered the work of many artists by equipping them with cameras and film. The exchange between artists and the Polaroid corporation was the foundation for the spectacular and rapidly growing Polaroid Collection, housed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Amsterdam.

When physicist Edwin Herbert Land founded the Polaroid company in Boston, Massachusetts almost 80 years ago, there was not a photo in the world that you could have in your hands, on your table, or in your photo album faster. The brand’s popularity quickly spread, and even achieved a degree of cult status, and today makes for a rich chapter of both photographic and cultural history. Despite the trend toward digitalization and the Polaroid’s bankruptcy in 2009, the brand has recently returned under the name The Impossible Project, with its products rebranded as Polaroid Originals, reflecting the strong comeback of instant photography. A longing for the unrepeatable moment, pleasure in the haptic quality of the image as object, and a certain nostalgia in the face of the daily deluge of electronic imagery—all these factors have given instant photography a new and irresistible appeal, even for the younger generation in the age of digitalization.

C/O Berlin is pleased to present the exhibition The Polaroid Project, exploring the Polaroid phenomenon in all its diversity with a unique overview of many of the Polaroid collections in the United States and Europe, including works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Sibylle Bergemann, Chuck Close, Guy Bourdin, Barbara Crane, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Rauschenberg, Erwin Wurm, and many more, together with camera models, concepts, and prototypes for the innovative photo technology. This exhibition has been organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis/New York/Paris/Lausanne, MIT Museum, Cambridge, Mass., and Westlicht: Museum for Photography in collaboration with C/O Berlin. It was curated by Deborah G. Douglas, William A. Ewing, Barbara P. Hitchcock, Rebekka Reuter, and Gary Van Zante with the support of the Land Fund, and adapted for the presentation at C/O Berlin by Ann-Christin Bertrand. The English catalog The Polaroid Project . At the Intersection of Art and Technology has been published by Thames & Hudson in London to accompany the exhibition. The publication is available in German by Hirmer Verlag in Munich.

Photo left:Andy Warhol, Andy Sneezing, 1978, Polaroid SX-70 Andy Warhol Artwork © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy Fotosammlung OstLicht

Photo right: Andy Warhol, Andy About to Sneeze, 1978, Polaroid SX-70 Andy Warhol Artwork © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy Fotosammlung OstLicht