instantly-developing photograph—the revolutionary process that, for the first time, gave professional and amateur photographers alike the opportunity to see their images moments after exposure. The complex process of developing a conventional photographic print—which entailed hours in the darkroom, along with chemistry and precise timing—was obviated by Land’s invention and hailed as a marvel of modern technology. From its introduction, Polaroid photography had immeasurable populist appeal, but it was hardly used exclusively by amateurs. Indeed, Polaroid’s cameras and films have captivated whole generations of professional photographers and artists, museum curators, and collectors. The widespread creative use of his invention inspired Land and Polaroid to assemble a group of works produced with Polaroid materials. Collected at first on an informal basis, the photographs were acquired in subsequent years in a more systematic way, and officially became the world-class Polaroid Collection of Photography in the 1960s.
The presence of Ansel Adams looms large in the Polaroid story. Not only does the collection include over 400 Adams photographs, both Polaroid and non-Polaroid work, but there were few aspects of the new Polaroid technology that Adams would not influence. The photographer met Land in 1948, and his involvement with Polaroid in the decades that followed is incalculable. Adams encouraged Land to innovate and to push the boundaries of what could be achieved with instant cameras and film; both men shared the belief that Polaroid technology could produce works of aesthetic merit as well as technical acclaim. Professionally and personally, Land and Adams became fast friends and regularly vacationed together with their wives, often in the American Southwest.
The Ansel Adams works in the Polaroid Collection can be divided into two major groups: classic Adams photographs that were made before the invention of the first Polaroid camera, among them many large murals that hung on the walls of Polaroid’s corporate offices; and Adams photographs made using Polaroid cameras or Polaroid film, including dozens of gem-like 4-by-5 Polaroids that show the photographer’s inventiveness when working on a small scale.
Adams was far from the only artist, however, who was intrigued by the potential of Polaroid products. Many other photographers were given cameras and film for experimentation, and they returned to Polaroid with recommendations and results. It was soon realized that the photographs shot by these early practitioners were an important record of the development of the medium, leading to Polaroid’s Artist Support Program, in which cameras and film were exchanged for the photographs taken. Through the Artist Support Program, the Polaroid Collection acquired works by artists whose names are now
linked with Polaroid technology, especially ones using the famous 20-by-24-inch camera, including Chuck Close, William Wegman, and David Levinthal, among many others.
In 1956, in order to give context to the new Polaroid photography, Land charged Ansel Adams with the creation of a collection of other significant photographs of the time, but ones made by more conventional means. Armed with a small budget, Adams approached such photographers as his friends Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Harry