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The art of Polaroid photography: Exhibit on the 'one-step photography' showcases decades of innovation

Polaroid photography didn't only bring the "picture in a minute" thrill of near-instant gratification to a world of snapshooters -- it also gave artists a powerful photographic medium, as a current exhibit at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art ably demonstrates.

"Innovation/Imagination: Fifty Years of Polaroid Photography" is on view through Oct. 22. Nancy Green, senior curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the museum, will lead a free tour of this exhibit Thursday, Sept. 28, at noon.

The first public demonstration of the one-step Polaroid photography process was given by Polaroid founder Edwin Land in 1947, with Land using the peel-apart negative and positive sheets of film and the jelly-like chemical mixture that processed the photo. The first Polaroid Land camera hit the market late the next year. Around the same time, Land hired legendary American landscape photographer Ansel Adams as a consultant.

For the rest of his life Adams created large-format Polaroid prints of the American West capturing the rugged landscape with each new generation of instant film types, reporting technical observations and sending Land experimental, and often spectacular, photographs.

The critical artistic perspective that Adams fed back to Land proved to be of great value to Polaroid scientists. More artists were recruited, with the company exchanging cameras and film for exhibition-quality fine art photographs that reflect artistic innovation and creative experimentation with Polaroid materials.

By the late 1960s, Polaroid formalized its archive of works by American artists, naming it the Polaroid Collection. The collection continues to expand internationally as the outgrowth of Polaroid's ongoing Artist Support Program. The company offers selected photographers the opportunity to experiment freely with Polaroid materials. In exchange, Polaroid receives a choice of the resulting images to add to the collection.

The exhibit, which was originally mounted in San Francisco in 1999 and has toured extensively since, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Polaroid camera and process. The exhibit was coordinated by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, with national sponsorship provided by Calumet Photographic. The original 1999 exhibit was curated by Deborah Klochko, former director of The Friends of Photography at the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco.

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