book review: the polaroid book (taschen 25th anniversary edition)

and i dreamt of a camera

I have a Polaroid. It was my maternal grandmother’s, and it came with two packs of expired, unusable film. I haven’t bought any film from the Impossible Project yet, because I never have any money, but I love Polaroid cameras, and photos. I love the instance of it; the whole point of it, really. I take photos for moments, and Polaroids are the most moment of all cameras.

I bought Taschen’s 25th anniversary edition of The Polaroid Book, a thick collection of photos from Polaroid’s collection of images made over the years of producing its film, with Christmas Amazon gift cards, and have browsed through it at my desk as I edit and review albums for hours ever since. It’s a hefty hardback, hundreds of pages, with a single image on each page, no captions, tiny annotations of photographer on the margins, just images upon images made on Polaroid film. There’s no organization to the images; there’s no overarching theme. It’s just a book full of beautiful images that were all made on instant film.

I am fascinated by the curation of this book; who picked the images, how were they picked? I picture Taschen and Polaroid employees surrounded by hundreds of thousands of fading white-bordered images, handling them all so carefully, putting them into piles of yes and no and maybe, rearranging the drifts and narrowing them down to what appears in the book. The opening essay by Barbara Hitchcock gives a lovely, thoughtful history of Polaroid, rife with cultural significance, and is worth reading before opening the book.

And when you open the book, it is beautiful: single images on white pages, centered carefully, and it is a book that is devoted to nothing but the images. I found myself held captive by single surprising images over and over again, stopped by the page I had turned to, and that is the sign of a great, not good, photo book: the captivation of one image, on white, that stops your breath. The Polaroid Book stops your breath over and over again. I recommend it whole-heartedly for anyone who loves instant photography.

Celebrate Polaroids and good music (two things I love) with this amazing stop-motion video, made by Walker Lukens (singer/songwriter) and the Impossible Project folks out of thousands of Polaroids. It’s amazing. It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen this year. “Dear Someone” is from Lukens’ upcoming record Devoted, out April 2, and I’m really looking forward to that, too.

One Comment Add yours

  1. As you are an admirer of this book, I would urge you to look out for a 1st edition copy (2005), which features 33 additional images and a small number of presentational variations to some half dozen others that were left out of the 25th Anniversary Edition. There are a number available on the AbeBooks website at bargain prices from dealers who are evidently unaware of the significant differences between these editions!

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