The Polaroid photographic archive is under threat
January 4, 2002 3:41 PM   Subscribe

The Polaroid photographic archive is under threat The archivists are trying to sell the collection together, but as always seems to happen in these cases, it looks like it might be separated. If buildings can be listed, why can't collections like this, which documents six decades of social and artistic history, be protected as well?
posted by feelinglistless (7 comments total)
Well, no, because then there'd be no profits.

posted by dong_resin at 4:24 PM on January 4, 2002

Had Polaroid taken advantage of this collection years ago they might not be having problems today. Wouldn't select photos from such a collection make one of the best coffee table books in the world? Granted a polaroid isn't always as beautiful as something taken by a professional photographer for Life Magazine, but I'd probably buy a book of polaroids depicting 20th century culture if I had a coffee table. Polaroid dropped the ball.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:40 PM on January 4, 2002

"Listing" as an historic building often means very little. The National Register of Historic Places "places no obligation or restriction on a private owner using private resources to maintain or alter the property". Sometimes local landmark laws are stricter, but in practice most of them boil down to situations such as New York's, where low-rise buildings' air rights may be transferred and sold to other locations in the city. It is extremely rare that a private property owner would be compensated directly for having his property listed as a landmark. What might happen to special properties is that they are donated to a quasi-public entity or sold to the municipality for a nominal price like $1.

As far as an historic collection, though, what would be needed is an institution capable of handling something of this scale, not only financially but also logistically. But that's going to require a benefactor.

Compare the fate of the Bettman Archive {nytimes: mefi/mefi should work}, which required Bill Gates to save it -- and may end up mostly lost regardless; or the UMI Archive of important historical documents; or the National Film Preservation Board, which can only restore a relative handful of films every year.

Zach, Polaroid was doomed no matter what; digital cameras replaced the function of self-developing film. The profits from a coffee-table book might amount to a few hundred thousand dollars if they're lucky. Polaroid owes its creditors 1000 times that much.
posted by dhartung at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2002

Zachsmind -- Your comment about relative beauty of polaroids vs Life Magazine is curious. I guess you've never seen any of the collection. (These links seem a bit slow, but well worth the wait.)

Back in the 80's, I worked for a big food company that owned a candy plant in downtown Cambridge (our fair city) MA. It was only two blocks from Polaroids gallery, in which they ran exhibits from their collection. Whenever I was up there, checking in on the Junior Mint production (you could smell the mint and chocolate out on the street), I would be sure to take a lunchtime stroll to the gallery.

They had giant art prints from their big camera by names recogizable and manipulated SX-70 images by names not so well known (If truthe be told, I can't say I saw the second linked artist there -- but I like his images, and they fit the discussion). They mixed the historical with the avant garde. It was a great respite from the rest of the day. I'd rather look at these Polaroids than most of Life Magazine, and I agree that these collections deserve protection and preservation.

Now if this country could fork up a bit more for the Endowment for the Arts, maybe something more creative could have been done. Stuff like this and like this is the important stuff.

(again, these polaroid links seem to be having problems. come back again later. i swear, there's good stuff there.)
posted by fpatrick at 5:18 PM on January 4, 2002

Public Licence Photo Archive that's what we need ,It probably already exist somewhere but I haven't found one yet.

The problem is nobody is willing to spend money to save film when it's possible to save digital photos at a fraction of the cost. Imagine AOL, they have got terabytes of storage they could easily handle millions of hi-resolution photos.

As long as the photo content it's saved I don't care if it's printed on paper or it's in digital form. If I really like it, I'll print it on top quality paper with top quality printers.

The problem is : who is going to provide the hardware for an "open source" archive ? I guess a distributed network like Gnutella couldn't help much as it is, because people will happily delete photos if they take too much hard drive space. Centralization is needed, as much as I hate it.

And the 2nd problem is : do we care ? I prolly do .. imagine a future in which historical pictures are all privately owend. Owner may as well destroy them or "forget" to maintain the ones they think are not going to be profiteable , happily singing the song of cost cutting !

Imagine having the pictures of the wars of Julius Cesar or of Rome ..or the pictures of Colombo discovering America. Imagine that someday somebody will delete all the pictures of 9-11 because, hey man it's history who cares they're not selling anymore. Wouldn't that hurt you , if you knew a piece of history was deleted by a dumb idiot with a lot of money who bought the originals ?
posted by elpapacito at 6:12 PM on January 4, 2002

Here's something related.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:32 PM on January 4, 2002

In an ideal world an extremely well funded government agency such as the NEA or Library of Congress would walk in and say that these collections were of such cultural importance that they would pay the necessary price to gain control of them. The obvious byproduct would be the ability to preserve photos/negatives in the optimal environment necessary.

Of course, we're stuck with morons like Shrubya who think all feds are lay-abouts and deadbeats, so all bets are off.

Wouldn't that hurt you , if you knew a piece of history was deleted by a dumb idiot with a lot of money who bought the originals ?

Hmmmm....change the wording slightly and apply it to software, and you have Gate$ and M$.
posted by PeteyStock at 9:51 PM on January 4, 2002

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