Candid camera: unseen Polaroids by Warhol, Mapplethorpe and more come to light

Candid camera: unseen Polaroids by Warhol, Mapplethorpe and more come to light

Convinced that the Polaroid camera was an invention at the intersection of art and technology, in 1949, Polaroid founder Edwin Land invited Ansel Adams to be a brand consultant. Together they went on to found the Polaroid Artists Programme, in which they gifted iconic 24 x 20 inch Polaroid cameras to a group of artists including Andy Warhol, Guy Bourdin, David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg and Dennis Hopper, under the agreement that they would donate their photographs back to the programme.

Everlasting Radio Wave-Test #5, 2008, Fujifilm FP-100C, by Chen Wei. © The artist

‘It was shrewd a move. Land hoped Adams would rope in other accomplished photographers,’ says William Ewing, the co-author of a new bookThe Polaroid Project – which for the first time brings together a comprehensive review of the 20,000 strong collection. Featuring images largely unseen due to Polaroid’s post-bankruptcy fragmentation, the book launches alongside a touring exhibition of the same name, beginning at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas.

Considering these images collectively, it’s clear how important the candid nature of Polaroid was to the work of some of the 20th century’s best-known photographers, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Gus Van Sant. Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait With Dancer (1978) fits perfectly into the photographer's self-documenting body of work, while Guy Bourdin’s Charles Jourdan (1978), a three-part series of a woman walking down the street, is Bourdin at his provocative best.