Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Elegy for the Polaroid

by Peter Conrad @ The Observer

Polaroids taken by leading artists from Ansel Adams to David Hockney will be auctioned off next month. These images show how a now dead technology brought us a different vision of reality.

Photographs, being infinitely reproducible, shouldn't have an intrinsic commercial value. But the art market over the past few decades has done a fine job of leveraging images and systematically inflating their prices, and the prints on office walls now qualify as a corporate asset. When companies fail, art is among the spoils that the creditors squabble over. The Polaroid Corporation collapsed in 2008. Its share of the photographic market had been eroded by a newer digital technology, but what brought it down was the exposure of a Ponzi scheme – an investment fraud like the one the notorious trickster Bernard Madoff operated – at its parent company. A judge appointed to settle Polaroid's debts decreed that its photographic archive, secreted in what the conservation departments of museums call "deep storage" in a warehouse in Massachusetts, should be handed over to the liquidators.

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