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Polaroid Collection: Update 18

Impossible Project logo

Impossible Project logo

Confounding all the naysayers, The Impossible Project, headed by Florian Kaps, has not only survived but launched several new instant monochrome Polaroid-compatible films. (They promise a color film in the very near future.) They’ve also premiered a fine new website, which includes a virtual tour of their production facility in Enschede, The Netherlands.

Polaroid 636 Close-Up

Moreover, they’ve initiated a new permanent collection of their own, built on the same barter principle as the original Polaroid Collection. They call it The Impossible Collection, and describe is as “a new archive of contemporary Instant Photography artworks.” To cap it all off, the supporters of The Impossible Project recently placed a binding offer to purchase the 4600-print International Polaroid Collection, presently located in the Musée de l‘Elysée (Lausanne), with the goal of leaving it in place there and building upon it. “Impossible’s intention is not only to preserve and protect this unique collection from being sold in parts,” they assert in a press release, “but also to re-open and expand it by providing the new Impossible film materials to contemporary artists.”

As if that weren’t enough, on April 30, 2010 the Impossible Project opened its own space, including a shop and a gallery, at 425 Broadway in New York City. Everything old is new again.

I just snagged a Polaroid 636 Close-Up for $6 in a Manhattan thrift shop — perfect working condition, even a filmpack inside with six shots left. I’ll expend them judiciously, then try the new products. I’m ready for the next phase of Polaroid photography.

Walker Evans, untitled Polaroid, 1976

On March 6, 2010, the Musée de L’Elysée opened an exhibition drawn from its Polaroid holdings. In a short piece, “Photo collection could be sold in an instant,” datelined February 26, 2010, Helen Murray wrote:

“A collection of Polaroid photos which has been housed at Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne for 20 years is at risk being sold due to the financial problems of the American-owned company famous for the instant photo. Polaroid’s collapse in 2008 has led directors to consider selling 16,000 images from its collection. Amongst them are 4,500 original works from the European collection, which were entrusted to Lausanne’s dedicated photography museum in 1990. Eighty-eight of the most valuable images have already been earmarked for auction. . . . The museum will put on a special exhibition in March to highlight the Polaroid collection.”

The show originally bore the title and subtitle “La collection s’expose: Polaroid in Peril!” And the page for it at the museum’s website contained a short statement explaining that the Musée’s share of the collection — roughly 27 percent of the total inventory — was now at risk of dispersal. Here, thanks to the Wayback Machine’s archive of web pages, is how that page originally looked and read. The press response to the show reflected that title and explanation; see, for example, Alix Rijckaert’s story for AFP, “Swiss museum puts Polaroids ‘in peril’ on show,” here at the Brisbane Times, here again at The Jakarta Globe, and here yet again at the China Post.

William Wegman, untitled, 1987

Revisiting the website of the Musée de l’Elysée yesterday, I found the museum’s announcement of this exhibition has had its “Polaroid in Peril!” stripped away, along with the explanatory text. Now there’s nothing there as an introductory statement about the show — just a “more to come” placeholder text and a few sample images. Makes you wonder . . .

By the way, I do revisit periodically the websites to which I link from this blog, precisely because they do change and, occasionally, vanish. For the same reason, I make PDFs of those same web pages, as a permanent record of their contents. This isn’t the first time web pages relating to the Polaroid Collection have vanished entirely or else mysteriously reconfigured themselves after I’ve reported on their contents and linked to them.

I also note that the captions for the photos from the Polaroid Collection at the website of the Musée de l’Elysée all read “© Polaroid collection.” However, not only do the letters of agreement that govern the collection include no transfer of copyright from the photographers to Polaroid, but the Minnesota Bankruptcy Court in its August 27, 2009 ruling stated explicitly that copyright to the images remains vested in their makers, not in the Polaroid Collection or its owners. Thus this claim to ownership of copyright by the Polaroid Collection is patently false and misleading; it should get corrected forthwith, accompanied by an apology. The copyright of each image should be attributed to its maker.

David Levinthal, Untitled (Wild West Series)

Speaking of which, additional information appears to confirm that the almost 4500 prints now housed at the Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland did get included in the 16,000-print inventory now considered the official inventory of the collection. Thus the discrepancy between that total and the 24,000-print estimate issued by “old” Polaroid and its successors for the previous two decades remains officially unexplained.

Artforum finally perked up its ears and noticed that something’s happening here (though they don’t know what it is). A brief notice in their March 15, 2010 online International News Digest, titled “SPECTACULAR POLAROID AUCTION PUT ON HOLD?” summarizes the situation in a lengthy paragraph. Another county heard from. ARTnews, meanwhile, notified me that they wouldn’t be interested in the story until it concluded — surely a notable position to take for a monthly magazine with “news” in its title. My, but the art press is all over this one . . .

A summary by me of the current situation of the Polaroid Collection appears in the latest issue of the German publication Photonews: Zeitung für Fotografie. It bears a May 2010 dateline. This report — titled (in German) “Polaroid Collection in der Krise: Streit um eine Auktion mit wichtigen Werken aus der Sammlung” — is a strictly factual synopsis of the two bankruptcies involving the collection, the pending auction and sale, and the upcoming challenge thereto discussed in my previous post. An English-language version of the same report appeared last month, in the April 12, 2010 issue of Agenda: Photography News and Notes from Ag Magazine, the blog of the British quarterly Ag: The international journal of photographic art & practice. You’ll find it under the title “Do you have work in the Polaroid Collection?”

Josip "Tito" Broz with Polaroid camera, undated.

This just in, from the “How Can It Possibly Get Any Weirder?” Dept.: The late Yugoslavian president/dictator Josip “Tito” Broz had a passion for photography. Acccording to a press release from the Museum of Yugoslav History, issued in conjunction with the opening of a show of Tito’s photographs, “Photography remained Tito’s favourite hobby right to the end of his life. Despite his stubborn devotion to it for more than forty years, he was consistently amateur to the end. Although he took tens of thousands of photographs, he had no desire to rise above the average in this endeavour, thus bearing out in the best possible way the original meaning of the word ‘amateur’ (Latin: amator ‘lover’). Thus he was a lover of photography, someone who simply adored it.”

Photo by Josip "Tito" Broz, untitled, undated.

The release elaborates, “Being an amateur had its advantages! Like all amateurs, Tito enjoyed the luxury of not having any particular favourite theme. He photographed everything – the coast, distant islands, various landscapes, hunting, animals, flowers and things around the house, but rarely people, apart from welcoming masses at large receptions, and virtually never portraits. His camera often caught his staff, particularly the maids.” [It is good to be king! — ADC]

Moreover, they add, “A significant part of the exhibition consists of Polaroid photographs made by Tito. This way Museum of Yugoslav History is joining the initiatives to support the revival of this camera that changed the meaning of photography in the twentieth century. Its enormous popularity transformed photography from a technically complex weekend hobby to an integral, even inevitable way of looking at the world and recording life which was accessible to everyone. Although professional photographers looked down on it as a poor cousin or an auxiliary device, Polaroid drew its most loyal supporters from the ranks of artists and creative amateurs.” Welcome aboard, I’m sure; those concerned with preserving the Polaroid medium, like the good people at The Impossible Project, need all the help they can get, even from unlikely and — to some, at least — unsavory sources.

The Tito show had a very short run, February 13-28, with no indication of a catalogue. Sounds like a surefire hit on the photo-festival circuit; I recommend consideration of it to Arles, Fotofest, and other such events. I’m looking forward to a special section featuring the multiple images of his “maids” that were “virtually never portraits” — definitely a conceptual installation-type presentation lurking in there. Joachim Schmid, are you listening? Here’s the museum’s website.

For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.

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