Snapshot of Polaroid history

Cuba-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons' installation, The One Who Opens The Path (1997), is among the artworks displayed at the exhibition, In An Instant: Polaroid At The Intersection Of Art And Technology.
Cuba-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons' installation, The One Who Opens The Path (1997), is among the artworks displayed at the exhibition, In An Instant: Polaroid At The Intersection Of Art And Technology.PHOTO: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE

Mention "Polaroid" and most people will think of the retro, palm-sized instant prints often stuck on refrigerators or posted in scrapbooks.

Not many will associate it with artwork - much less the sort of art you might hang in a gallery.

But Cuba-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons' installation, The One Who Opens The Path (1997), is just that.

It features 10 large Polaroids which are each 20 by 24 inches (50cm by 60cm) - bigger than a sheet of A2-sized paper - and is on display at the National Museum of Singapore as part of an exhibition on the history of Polaroid photography and art using Polaroid, In An Instant: Polaroid At The Intersection Of Art And Technology.

Also on display are about 160 other photographic artworks - in various sizes and styles - by artists such as Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, David Hockney and others.

This is the Asian debut of the exhibition, which has travelled in the United States and Europe and will return to North America next year.

  • BOOK IT / IN AN INSTANT: POLAROID AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND TECHNOLOGY

  • WHERE: Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement Level, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

    WHEN: Until March 31 next year, 10am to 7pm daily

    ADMISSION: $12.50 for Singaporeans and permanent residents (free for students and seniors); $18 for foreign residents ($14 for students and seniors)

    INFO: Go to www.nationalmuseum.sg/our-exhibitions/exhibition-list/polaroid

In An Instant, which is on until the end of March, starts off by charting the history of the Polaroid camera, the brainchild of American scientist Edwin H. Land.

 
 
 

The instant camera, with film that could be developed in 60 seconds or less, was a technological breakthrough and sold out the day of its commercial debut in 1948.

The Polaroid cameras on display range from the SX-70 - the first camera that made truly instant photographs - to the Big Shot, which was popular in the 1970s with photographers such as Warhol.

The exhibition does not have any of the giant studio cameras that capture 20 by 24 inch (50cm by 60cm) Polaroid prints.

While these cameras are rare, Land's artistic vision has ensured the existence of many of these prints.

The late inventor gave some photographers free access to the giant cameras in exchange for some of the prints they produced.

"He saw the value of art in his creation as well," says curator Priscilla Chua, 36. "As you go through the exhibition, you get a sense of the dynamicism of that vibrant period, how generations of artists and photographers were inspired by Polaroid technology."

Land, a Harvard dropout and one of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' biggest heroes, did not just give the world instant prints.

He also developed the plastic sheet used to polarise light and came up with polarised sunglasses in the 1930s.

The exhibition also features a short film demonstrating the effect of polarised lenses. All the museumgoer can see is a white glare until he puts on a pair of Polaroid sunglasses.

The Polaroid artefacts and artworks are on loan from the MIT Museum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the WestLicht centre for photography in Vienna, The Polaroid Collection and various artists, as part of a collaboration between the National Museum of Singapore and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography.

The Singapore edition of the exhibition ends with a series of video projections of "influencers" talking about what "in an instant" means to them.

Among them are comedy site SGAG's co-founder Karl Mak, YouTube star Jianhao Tan, YouTuber and comedienne Preetipls, socialite Jamie Chua, Instagram twins Yafiq and Yais Yusman, and Angie and David Sim from the lifestyle and travel blog Life's Tiny Miracles.

Visitors who want to take home a memento can head to the photo-booth and selfie station outside the exhibition space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'Snapshot of Polaroid history'. Print Edition | Subscribe