The Polaroid Camera: A Development in Photography

The Polaroid brand, around since 1937, has been called a photography staple. While the company started out with various products using polarized technology – sunglasses, 3-D movies, and dog goggles – Polaroid is now best known for its quick retro photos.

In 1948, Edwin Land invented the first Polaroid instant camera. The idea was sparked by a simple question from Land’s daughter: “Why can’t I have it now?” She was confused as to why a photo could not be printed immediately. Her confusion gave Land his vision of an instant camera – a new way to photograph and develop film. That year, he came out with the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95. Pictured here is a later model of the 130, courtesy of Liam Douglas.

Polaroid cameras develop the photo inside the camera, using a group of dyes: cyan, magenta, and yellow. Each dye reacts to a certain part of the film. The top of the film reacts with cyan, the middle with magenta, and the bottom with yellow. These dyes, along with additional chemicals, are squeegeed onto the film. When the photo emerges from the slot in the camera, it is white and blurry because the acid layer is clearing away, but the photo has already been developed.

While the Polaroid camera’s popularity peaked in the 1950s, it is now making a comeback. In fact, Polaroid photos are so trendy that Urban Outfitters, a popular store among young people, even carries some instant film cameras. So, what is it that has drawn people to Polaroids in the age of the iPhone?

Besides the benefit of having the photos instantly ready and printed, Polaroids also stand out for their distinct aesthetic. The dyes used to develop Polaroids produce a unique effect on the finished photo. Bluish and green undertones generate contrast and give the final image a pleasing, retro filter. In other words, you can get that vintage-y feel without having to scroll through filters on your phone or futz with PhotoShop.

DashBurst user Jolie Buchanan has done some work with a Polaroid camera. Her photos have a sharp contrast between dark and light, and the tones give the photo a nice, older look. Pictured here are two examples of the effects that a Polaroid camera has.

Don’t Have Time for Art? Slow Down

Different trends from past decades are coming back Рplatforms, vinyl records, and of course, instant photography. Nearly 70 years since its invention, the Polaroid camera continues to be a staple in the way we photograph our ever-changing world.

By Allison Guzman

Native Texan attending Carnegie Mellon University majoring in Ethics, History, and Public Policy with a secondary major in Professional Writing. Interning at DashBurst for the summer!