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Musée de l'Elysée Celebrates Polaroid with Exhibition from Its Collection
Monica Nestler (Suisse), 1980. © Polaroid collection.

LAUSANNE.- For half a century, Polaroid has been synonymous with instant photography. Both amateurs and professionals were enthusiastic about the idea of pressing the shutter of the camera and seeing a print appear a few minutes later. The Polaroid format with its white border made it an object immediately identifiable and also unique. Shortly after its launch in 1948, Polaroid became a cult object. In the 1960s, nearly half of U.S. households owned one.

Since its founding in 1937, the Polaroid Corporation has sought to innovate in many areas. Before the Second World War, it was known for its polarizing filters, its microscopes and its military sunglasses. Understanding that artists were most likely to invent new applications with instant film – and to push the process to its limits – Edwin H. Land, the founder of Polaroid, offered cameras and film to photographers in exchange for prints. The company continued this programme for many years, giving carte blanche to the artists. A Polaroid Collection was established, bringing together more than 16,000 works.

For twenty years, the Musée de l’Elysée has preserved more than 4,500 original prints of the European Polaroid Collection. This unique collection houses the works of 850 photographers, including big names such as Ansel Adams, Gabriele Basilico, Nancy Burson, Helen Chadwick, Walker Evans, Franco Fontana, Joan Fontcuberta, Luigi Ghirri, David Levinthal, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucas Samaras, Stephen Shore, Aaron Siskind, Oliviero Toscani, Andy Warhol and William Wegman. Important Swiss photographers are also represented in the collection, such as Béatrice Helg, Alan Humerose, Monique Jacot, Gérald Minkoff, Muriel Olesen and Christian Vogt.

Despite the attachment of professionals and amateurs, Polaroid films and cameras were a victim of the digital revolution. The successive bankruptcies of the Polaroid Corporation (2001 and 2008) are now threatening the future of its collection in the United States and Europe. In June 2010, the collection will be auctioned, at least in part, by the current owners, the PBC Corporation. The dispersion of these works will represent the loss of an unparalleled collection. The Musée de l’Elysée hopes that a solution will be found quickly to avoid the break up of this unique collection.

An Overview of Polaroid

1947 The American Edwin H. Land, professional photographer and founder of the Polaroid Corporation, creates the Model 95, a camera which allows the instant development of an image without using a darkroom. A passionate inventor and custodian of 533 patents, it is said to have taken Land three years to develop this process.

1948 Available to the general public for the first time at Jordan Marsh in Boston, the Model 95 quickly sells out. Meanwhile, the price goes from $95 to more than $1,300.

1950 In two years, the Polaroid Corporation sells one million films.

1956 Less than ten years after the start of production, Polaroid sold more than one million units.

1963 To complete the monochrome process, the company creates the Polacolor film, the first colour Polaroid film.

1972 The marketing of the SX-70 camera introduces a new line of equipment: lighter and with more efficient technology. With a mirror system similar to an SLR camera, the SX-70 is designed for professionals and amateurs alike.

1991 Polaroid’s market starts to shrink. The advent of digital cameras causes the company to lose significant sales; it seeks to diversify with various electronic products.

2001 First bankruptcy of the Polaroid Corporation. A year later, it leads to the acquisition of shares by Equity One.

2008 After the purchase of shares by the multinational Petter's and stopping production of instant film, Polaroid goes bankrupt for the second time.

2010 1,200 objects from the Polaroid Collection will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on 21st and 22nd of June. The proceeds of the sale could reach 7.5 to 11.5 million dollars. The future of the collection is uncertain.

Musée de l'Elysée | Polaroid | Edwin H. Land | Oliviero Toscani | Andy Warhol | William Wegman |

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