Edwin Land Of Polaroid Fame

Did you ever have a Polaroid camera?

I had one of the SX70 models and I used out-of-date film that I bought on eBay and I used the film to create image transfers.

When you took a photograph with a Polaroid camera, the camera would eject two sheets – a negative and a positive that were stuck together – and the chemical reaction to transfer the image from the negative to the final photo would happen then.

Normally you would leave the two sheets together until the negative had transferred the image to the positive. That took about a minute. Then you would peel the two sheets apart and keep the positive (your photograph) and throw away the negative.

Someone worked out that by pulling the negative apart from the positive after only about ten seconds, you could put the negative face down on a piece of art paper, gently run a roller over it, and then lift off the negative.

That left a copy of the image on the art paper.

The thing was that the image was wet with the chemicals in the negative, so you had to be very gentle with the materials when you peeled the negative off the art paper.

Sometimes little bits of gel would come off and leave patches in the image.

Sometimes the roller would squeeze and distort the image.

Either way, it was a fresh adventure each time you did the process. As I write this I am thinking about a box I have in storage with some old prints that I made on Arches art paper.

Polaroid also made a mini lab with which you could take a photo you had made on a normal film camera and expose it onto Polaroid film and then do the image transfer. Here’s a video showing that being done.

There was another side to Polaroid cameras and that was the wonders of reading about and seeing pictures of the many different models.

Take a look at the Land List, which is a labour of love by Martin (Marty) Kuhn, a dedicated Polaroid lover.

But be careful not to fall down the rabbit hole because there are hours of enjoyment in there if you are interested in esoteric Polaroid models.

The reason the website is called the Land List is because the Polaroid camera in all its many variations was invented by Edwin Land – and it’s his 105th birthday today – as I found out from an article on the Impossible blog.

If you haven’t come across Impossible, it’s a company selling Polaroid film and refurbished Polaroid cameras. It was founded in 2008 when the founders bought the last factory in the world manufacturing Polaroid instant film.

By the way, not all Polaroid models used ‘two-sheet’ film. Some models used film that was just one combined negative and positive sheet where all the development reaction took place until the film hardened.

It was more convenient (no negative to have to dispose of) but of course you couldn’t do image transfers.

However, people turned that one sheet into an art form too. They would use a rounded stick and gently manipulate the soft image before it hardened. Google for ‘polaroid image manipulation’ to see what people have done with the technique.

Happy Birthday Edwin Land

This short article has been a labour of love for me. I was 100% in favour of Edwin Land and his approach to instant photography. He broke all the rules and did it his way – and along the way he made a lot of people happy.

So happy 105th birthday Dr. Land, and thank you.


  1. Seba Silver says:

    I remember one of my cousins had a Polaroid camera and being intrigued by the images of us emerging ‘instantly’. Was very exciting, the alternative was waiting months before a roll of film would be completed, then dropped off to be developed and then another 10 days before prints collected from the local pharmacy. How quickly the world changes.


    1. Yes, the world changes quickly. And I think one of the things that marks the current era is that we expect change. We expect change to happen quickly and in our lifetimes.


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