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Polaroid, aperture, and Ansel Adams: rethinking the industry-aesthetic divide

Buse, P 2009, 'Polaroid, aperture, and Ansel Adams: rethinking the industry-aesthetic divide' , History of Photography, 33 (4) , pp. 357-373.

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This article takes the history of Polaroid photography as an opportunity to question a presupposition that underpins much thinking on photography: the split between industrial (ie useful) applications of photography and its fine art (ie aesthetic) manifestations. Critics as ideologically opposed as Peter Bunnell and Abigail Solomon-Godeau steadfastly maintain the existence of this separation of utility and aesthetics in photography, even if they take contrasting views on its meaning and desirability. However, Polaroid, at one time the second largest company in the photo industry, not only enjoyed close relations with those key representatives of fine art photography, Ansel Adams and the magazine Aperture, but it also intermittently asserted the ‘essentially aesthetic’ nature of its commercial and industrial activities in its own internal publications. The divide between industry and aesthetics is untenable, then, but this does not mean that the two poles were reconciled at Polaroid. While Aperture may have underplayed its commercial connections and Polaroid may have retrospectively exaggerated its own contributions to the development of fine art photography, most interesting are the contradictions and tensions that arise when the industrial and the aesthetic come together. The article draws on original research undertaken at the Polaroid Corporation archives held at the Baker Library, Harvard, as well as with the Ansel Adams correspondence with Polaroid, held at the Polaroid Collections in Concord, Massachusetts

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a preprint of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in the History of Photography © 2009; History of Photography is available online at:
Themes: Media, Digital Technology and the Creative Economy
Schools: Schools > College of Arts & Social Sciences > School of Arts & Media > Arts, Media and Communication Research Centre
Journal or Publication Title: History of Photography
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 0308-7298
Depositing User: P Buse
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2011 13:49
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2015 01:03

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