Polaroid Corporation records, series IV: Photographs and correspondence of Polaroid consultant photographer Ansel Adams
Scope and Contents
Renowned landscape photographer Ansel Easton Adams was born in San Francisco, California, in 1902. During the course of the 1930s and 1940s, Adams produced some of his best-known works such as "The Golden Gate Before the Bridge" (1932) and "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" (1941), developed close relationships with prominent figures in photography circles such as Edward Weston, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, and Charles Sheeler, and became a respected advocate for environmental conservation as well as photography. Though his work was recognized and exhibited in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, he continued to accept commercial assignments to supplement his income. In 1948 Adams met Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land. Intrigued by Polaroid's instant film, Adams was engaged as a freelance consultant to Polaroid in 1949, and retained this position until his death in 1984. During his tenure with Polaroid, he was involved in many exhibition, writing and teaching projects, which he often sought to incorporate into his Polaroid consultant work.
Adams tested nearly every product Polaroid made during the span of his consultancy. He regularly sent detailed memoranda, typically accompanied by test photographs, to Polaroid, describing his experiences and opinions. Because he lived in California his entire life, most of his test photographs and correspondence were taken and written there. He also traveled to the Southwest and the East Coast of the United States, and would take test photographs and write during his travels. In addition to providing feedback on specific products, Adams commented on Polaroid marketing and advertising, and explained to the company how Polaroid products were perceived by the public and his photographer colleagues. He introduced many of his friends to Polaroid materials, helping them overcome their initial creative skepticism, and is credited with the idea of developing Polaroid's 4x5 film that was targeted towards a professional photographer audience. He introduced Polaroid products into his Yosemite teaching workshops, and wrote the instructional Polaroid Land Photography Manual as part of his Basic Photo Series, which was published in 1963. In the early 1960s, when Adams decided that Polaroid's products rivaled the quality of traditional film, he began using them for serious creative work, and included Polaroid photographs in exhibitions of his work. He advised Polaroid on photographs to acquire for their fine arts photography collections, and sold some of his own fine arts photographs to the company, many of which were displayed in Polaroid offices. He encouraged Polaroid employees to develop their understanding of creative photography through training and workshops he gave in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as in Yosemite National Park. Adams often sent Polaroid a year-end review letter, summarizing his current projects and ideas for Polaroid.
Many of the test photographs Adams took were associated with a particular letter or memorandum in which he often recorded exposure details about the test photographs and a description of their subject matter along with additional commentary. He frequently took a sequence of test photographs of the same subject or view with slight variations, such as in the aperture setting, developing time or use of a filter, recording all of these details on the test photograph as well as in the letters. The test photographs are sometimes numbered, and sometimes several are affixed or mounted together on one sheet, with Adams' commentary written around them. Some of these are also mounted in small Polaroid spiral-bound albums. The subjects of the test photographs often reflect themes with which he is most commonly associated, such as landscapes, close-ups of the natural world, and Yosemite, but also include numerous other subjects such as rural and urban architecture, gravestones, abstractions, still lifes, his home and family, and most notably, portraits of artist friends. Within his test photographs are also numerous photographs of other photographs, paintings, and sculptural objects, as he sought to test the materials' ability to reproduce other works of art. Adams also worked on several photographic reproduction projects for Polaroid such as the India Project, and some of the resulting materials are found in this collection.
- Adams, Ansel (Ansel Easton) (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information regarding access procedures.
Extent30 linear feet (59 boxes)
Biographical / Historical
Best known for its iconic instant film and camera, first released in 1948 to great commercial success, the Polaroid Corporation was among the most creative and technologically innovative companies of the twentieth century. From the company's beginnings in 1936, Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land fostered invention and creativity within the culture of a small, science-based research and manufacturing company. Soon after the 1948 camera release, Polaroid began engaging fine arts photographers as freelance consultants to the company. The consultant photographers were involved in the intensive research and development process behind Polaroid's instant photography products. They tested film and cameras and provided technical as well as aesthetic feedback on the materials. Their ability to judge the creative potential of the material complimented the scientific and engineering ingenuity of the Polaroid labs.
The first, most engaged and longest-serving of these consultants was the noted landscape photographer Ansel Adams, whom Land met in 1948. For over three decades, Adams helped guide the company in making products that served not only amateur photographers but professional and creative ones as well. The value of Adams' contributions to its product development led Polaroid to employ other fine arts photographers as consultants, many of whom were referred to Polaroid through Adams. As Polaroid's products became increasingly refined, consultants were encouraged to make artistic photographs with the materials, not just test photographs, to see how far the materials could be pushed creatively. These fine arts photographers included Paul Caponigro, Walter Chappell, William (Bill) Clift, Marie Cosindas, Nicholas (Nick) Dean, Gerry Sharpe and Don Worth.
Ansel Adams and the other consultant photographers contributed to the development of the many photographic products that Polaroid released from the 1940s to the 1970s. The 1948 camera and film launched a new photographic process that captivated consumers, producing a fully-developed sepia photograph in sixty seconds. A film producing more modern black and white photographs followed soon after in 1950, and by 1952, a second Polaroid camera was released. By 1960, the company had introduced nearly ten additional roll film types that not only varied in film speeds, exposure ranges and contrast, and included orthochromatic and panchromatic films, but also when developed could produce smaller-sized photographs and transparencies. Within the same decade Polaroid also released its 4x5 film as single film packets that fit into specially-designed holders for use with non-Polaroid 4x5 view and press cameras. By 1961, the 4x5 film Type 55 P/N was released, which produced reusable negatives, unlike the non-reusable paper negatives produced by most of Polaroid's other film types. Even though the roll film was continually improving, the 4x5 system along with the reusable negative marked a turning point as serious photographers were able to use the film with cameras of their choosing and could make multiple enlargements from negatives. In 1963, pack film was introduced, considered to be more convenient than roll film in part because it allowed exposures to be developed outside the camera and, in the same year, color film was released in the roll, 4x5, and pack film formats. In 1972, the SX-70 film and camera were released, the first true integral, one-step instant film process that Polaroid founder Edwin Land had always envisioned. Two additional products Polaroid released at the end of the 1970s were the instant movie film Polavision and the 20x24 camera.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Polaroid Corporation, 2006.
Processed: By: Irene Gates, Tim Mahoney, and Stephanie Hall
- Baker Library
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