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The provocateurs who pioneered the Polaroid

We chart the photographers who did Instant like no other – from Nobuyoshi Araki to Robert Mapplethorpe and Maripol

The Polaroid camera sent the world spinning when it was introduced in 1947 – opening up the possibilities of documentation and the ability to record instantly. Since, the Polaroid has hit icon status, used by amateurs and professionals alike – from fashion photographer Helmut Newton to Japanese provocateur Nobuyoshi Araki. But as the digital revolution kicked in the humble Polaroid found itself on the decline. Step up the Impossible Project – the only company in the world producing Instant film and Polaroid cameras today. To celebrate World Photography Day, we join forces with Impossible to chart the pioneers who did Instant like no other.


One of photography's most controversial names, Robert Mapplethorpe's use of the Polaroid – particularly during the years of 1970-1975 – can trace his illustrious career path as he began to experiment with erotica and sex. His portraiture, still life and self-portraits are brought together most famously in Sylvia Wolf's 2013 book Robert Mapplethorpe: Polaroids, a collection of over 300 images of himself, once-partner Patti Smith, art curator Sam Wagstaff and model/singer Marianne Faithfull.


Andy Warhol captured his life and the lives of those around him and his infamous Factory in a mind-blowing 20,000 Polaroids taken over his lifetime. Interacting with people like Yves Saint Laurent, Debbie Harry and Mick Jagger, Warhol’s work helps us to hark back to the heady days of 1960s/70s New York.


Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki has always experimented with novel techniques, often harnessed as a means to sustain his prolific output – from photocopying the first of his 450 photo books to putting on postal exhibitions. In his work with the Polaroid, bondage, bathtubs and bedrooms collide in raw shots of sexuality from the provocateur – Araki at his finest.


Edo Bertoglio’s Polaroids capture the transience of youth in New York during 1976-1989. With a cast featuring Debbie Harry, Grace Jones and ex-wife, stylist and photographer Maripol, Bertoglio’s shots are a highly intimate look into the lives of the world’s stars as they were starting out.


One of the most defining stylists of the 1980s, Maripol helped to carve out the iconic looks of stars like Madonna – it was Maripol’s idea to stick the singer in a wedding dress – Grace Jones and Debbie Harry. “Blondie already had a name, but most of them weren’t celebrities at the time – they became celebrities after,” Maripol told us in 2009. “Taking Polaroids, I could have had a book full of celebrities, but my plan wasn’t to take pictures of famous people and make money out of it.” Now published in MARIPOLA, it’s no surprise that her and then-husband Edo Bertoglio dominated the documentation of New York’s flourishing art and music scenes.


Helmut Newton used the Polaroid camera for his test shots – capturing models as they sat, off-guard and at ease, awaiting direction from the late-fashion photographer. After he passed in 2004, Newton’s widow June put together a collection of his test shots in a book for Taschen, totalling over 300 rarely seen before images. A much-welcomed insight into the eye of a photography master that proves Newton’s natural knack for imagery – even when he wasn’t trying.


Between hedonism and hell-raising, it’s no surprise that the late Dash Snow took a fancy to the Polaroid – if not to simply as a device to remember the night before’s antics. Taking to the camera when he was still a teenager, the New York artist’s images are littered throughout forgotten nights of blood, vomit and bruises and forever remembered on Instant film.

In celebration of International Photography Day, the Impossible Project are launching a new Instant photography kit, an Instant Film Starter Pack and limited edition Skateistan film pack  – to get involved and find out more, click here