Instant Film and Toy Photography

We’re all familiar with the Polaroid camera. Whether you’ve used one or not, you know the name is synonymous with the art of instant photography. But, did you know that its invention began in 1928?

The History of Polaroid

The first Polaroid camera, the Model 95, was then introduced in 1948 and was offered for sale at the Marsh department store the same year. Professional photographers, including Ansel Adams began to use Polaroid cameras in the 1950s as their popularity grew and Polaroid established the Artist Support Program (ASP) in the 1960s.

The ASP was essentially an early form of influencer marketing. Polaroid would invite artists to join the program, give them a camera and a lifetime supply of film with the goal of raising brand awareness.

In 1963 the first instant color film was introduced, along with the Automatic 100 camera. In 1967 came the Automatic 230 and peel apart prints.

Polaroid SX-70
Polaroid SX-70

In 1970 the ASP was expanded and the SX-70 was released in 1971, being made available to the public in 1972, with Robert Mappelthorpe and Walker Evans both getting film grants.

Chuck Close using the 20x24 Polaroid camera
Chuck Close using the 20×24 Polaroid camera

In 1976 the 20×24 Polaroid camera was created, with 6 in total being produced between 1976 and 1978. And a 40×80 camera, called the Museum Camera was made in 1977. These large format cameras had saturated colors, a large depth of field and great detail. Being housed in studio spaces, artists were invited to come use them. At this time Chuck Close was added to the ASP.

Using Polaroid for Toy Photography

David Levinthal, American Beauties
David Levinthal, American Beauties

As you may remember from my recent post on David Levinthal, he often used Polaroid cameras in his early work, making Modern Romance with an SX-70 from 1983 to 1989 where he’d record a miniature scene with a video camera, play the tape on his TV and then photograph the TV screen. He then made his series American Beauties with the 20×24 camera in 1989. The large format allowed Levinthal to further distort fact from fiction in printing these HO scale (2 cm) figures larger than life.

Levinthal’s images with Polaroid cameras were his first use of color in his photographic work.

Laurie Simmons, another photographer who often used toys in her work in the 1970s and 80s, tells a story in her essay “In and Around the House” where she would bring toys into her father’s dental practice as a child, where he had a polaroid camera set up for dental close-ups, so that the toys could be photographed close up as well.

The End of polaroid

In 2001 Polaroid filed for bankruptcy. Theres a whole lot within their first sale and purchase, and then their second because of a ponzi scheme within the first sale, but that’s a story for another day. In 2007 the manufacturing of Polaroid cameras came to an end. Sad for them of course, but in more recent years other companies have risen to fill the gap in the instant film market.

my turn

6 Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic toy photos by Tourmaline .
6 Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic toy photos by Tourmaline .

I’ve tentatively tried my hand at instant film toy photography and it’s not an easy task, even with my modern Fujifim Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic. The camera relies a lot on having enough light as there’s no aperture or shutter speed control, the flash tends to fully wash out a close up scene, you also have no idea if your small subject is going to be in focus. The view finder is also up and to the left of the actual lens of the camera, which has to be taken into consideration when framing your photo.

In deciding again to experiment in this endeavor, I realize I only had 6 exposures of film left. I decided on a clear 1:6 scale (Barbie/play scale) chair, a 1:12 scale (dollhouse scale) doll and blue and magenta lighting. 3 pictures of the chair and 3 of the doll. I shot them with the idea of purposeful blur in mind and got 1 result of each that I’m pretty happy with. Much more exploration is needed here, and I’m still deciding what subject matter is best for this medium, but one step at a time.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic photo of 1:12 Phicen figure by Tourmaline .
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic photo of 1:12 Phicen figure by Tourmaline .
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic photo of 1:6 clear chair by Tourmaline .
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neoclassic photo of 1:6 clear chair by Tourmaline .

Source: The Polaroid Years | Instant Photography and Experimentation, Mary-Kay Lombino and Peter Buse, 2013


Do you have an instant camera? What kind of photos do you make with it?

9 thoughts on “Instant Film and Toy Photography

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  1. Thanks for the fascinating overview of Polaroid. I love what you did with it. None of my photos ever looked so clear. How well do Polaroid pics age? I have some old ones but it’s hard to know if they started off so grainy….

    1. That is a really great question. From what I know, they’re not meant to be archival and do age over time but I need to do more research as to what that timeline looks like. Stay tuned.

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