Polaroids: 1978-1982

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I was a part-time art school student in the spring of 1978 when I purchased an SX-70 Polaroid camera. It was my first Polaroid since the fourth grade when I received a Polaroid Swinger for Christmas. In 1977 I had begun shooting color photographs seriously for the first time. Prior to then, my work had been exclusively in black and white. The SX-70 was all about color and it was the rage at that time, both in and out of art school. It was the camera of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Walker Evans, and countless anonymous amateurs. I loved the SX-70 for its spontaneity and instant gratification. Each successful print it spat out was a precious object with a signature look that was unmistakable, even though the ratio of picks to rejects was steep. The other factor I liked was the square format, ideal for simple compositions of a single subject or for asymmetrical compositions accentuated by the rigid square. The color and contrast were as distinctive as they were difficult to manage. Working with an SX-70 camera was a different experience from any other camera of its time and few cameras since have captured the whims and imaginations of photographers like the SX-70 did in its day. Though it would not become integral to my work as a photographer, it did define an era of my photography. Other Polaroid processes left a more lasting mark—Polaroid 59 prints and Polaroid 55 negatives, with their funky edges, were common materials for me for as long as they were manufactured. I’m still hoarding boxes of extinct Polaroid 55 film long past its expiration. Even after the film is completely unusable, and that day is rapidly approaching, it will be impossible to throw it away. Like a photograph of an ex-girlfriend, I just can’t bear to part with it.

—Richard Sexton