Nearby Café Home > Art & Photography > Photocritic International

Polaroid Collection Campaign

Photocritic International Covers the Crisis of the Polaroid Collection

The break-up and sale at auction of the Polaroid Collection has many ramifications, none of them positive. With no pre-planning, in June 2009 this blog became action central in an eleventh-hour effort to save the collection. This effort, which had only limited impact on the dissolution of the collection, concluded on January 25, 2011, with the dispersal of the remaining segments of the collection.

This section of Photocritic International will remain online as a permanent record of the Polaroid Collection’s sad last days. Links to pertinent posts in this blog, which in turn contain links to pertinent documents, news stories, and other related information, can be found here:

The relevant documents I’ve managed to gather are posted here:


Comprising somewhere between 16,000 and 24,000 images made with Polaroid cameras and films between 1948 and 2004, the collection constitutes a unique and irreplaceable repository of creative work. Selling it off piecemeal (Sotheby’s is the designated auction house) will end its function as a resource for artists and scholars doing research on Polaroid as a distinctive medium of photography. It will also terminate its function as a source of material for books and exhibitions of work done with these tools and materials.

Beyond that, much of the work in this collection entered the collection not by purchase or donation but via barter and, in some cases, on long-term loan from the artists. Unencumbered title to these works was never formally transferred to the Polaroid Corporation by these picture-makers. Most of the letters of agreement gave photographers the right to borrow their work from the collection for exhibition and reproduction purposes “in perpetuity.” Selling these works to private and institutional collectors not bound to abide by those terms will certainly breach the spirit of contracts made between the Polaroid Corporation and hundreds of artists.

In August 2009 I used this blog as a platform the photography and art communities could utilize, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Minnesota court to disapprove the motion to allow sale of the collection to go forward. That attempt failed. For a report by George Slade on the August 27 court decision confirming the permission granted to auction the collection at Sotheby’s sometime in June 2010, click here. As of that date, officially forbidden to pursue the matter further, I abandoned my own efforts at direct intervention in the case before the court.

However, heartened by the analysis of federal judge Sam Joyner, in mid-September 2009 I resumed the campaign to interrupt the progress toward dispersal by auction of this irreplaceable resource. From what Joyner said, this wasn’t automatically a done deal. Please read my advisory of September 15, and lend a hand.

During that brief, intense effort in August, the following individuals wrote to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the District of Minnesota, and to Sotheby’s in New York, objecting to the proposed sale. I want to thank them for lending their voices to mine by recognizing them here. if a Motion for Rehearing does get filed, and the opposition to the sale intensifies, it will be because they stood up with me to raise a ruckus.


Photographers and Artists

Erica H. Adams (Boston, MA)

Eileen Cowin (Santa Monica, CA)

Judy Dater (Berkeley, CA)

John Divola (Riverside, CA)

Jeff Dunas (Los Angeles, CA)

Chris Enos (Santa Fe, NM)

Wendy Ewald (Amherst, MA)

Sandi Fellman (New York, NY)

Toto Frima (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Barbara Jaffe (New York, NY)

Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY)

Mark Power (Silver Spring, MD)

John Sexton (Carmel, CA)

Sharon Smith (New York, NY)

Melanie Walker (Boulder, CO)

Todd Walker Trust


Critics, Historians, Curators, Scholars, and Others

A. D. Coleman (Staten Island, NY)


Back to Top

Print Friendly, PDF & Email