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Matinee: 'The Man Who Made 12,000 Polaroid SX-70 Portraits' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

13 July 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 210th in our series of Saturday matinees today: The Man Who Made 12,000 Polaroid SX-70 Portraits in 1976.

Steve Jobs was an admirer of Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid. Jobs said meeting Land was like "visiting a shrine."

Land was the man who didn't believe you should have to wait very long for a photograph. So he invented the instant photo.

Like Jobs, Land dropped out of college and built a multibillion-dollar corporation. And like Land, Jobs would perfect the product introduction.

At the Polaroid company meeting in 1972, Land had a product to introduce: the SX-70. When he took the stage empty-handed, he surprised the audience by pulling the flat, book-sized camera from his jacket pocket, popping it open and taking five instant color photos in 10 seconds.

Ever try getting a five year old to do anything 12,000 times?

But in those days, product introductions weren't live-streamed to millions of people. To introduce a product, to make a sale, you had to bring the product to the customer. The customer wasn't coming to you.

To popularize the SX-70, Land decided to put a Polaroid print in the hands of potential customers. That's all it would take, he was sure, for them to be won over.

One day Land called a young Edward Judice, a contract photographer working for the company, into his office and, as Judice tells it in this video, told him he so admired an instant photo Judice had taken that he wanted it in every photo store in America. That would be 12,000 of them.

Nice contract.

The trouble was that each Polaroid print is unique. The SX-70 instant film produced no negative from which you could make duplicates.

And that photograph Land so admired was of five year old Ruth Ellen sitting on the grandfatherly knee of a fellow named Russ, both of them with big smiles. Ever try getting a five year old to do anything 12,000 times? Or even once? And smile about it?

Judice built a rig that held four SX-70s he could fire simultaneously by cable release. With one assistant (a neighborhood girl) to amuse Ruth Ellen and help with the gear, they were able to produce 1,500 Polaroids a day.

End of story? Oh no, not quite.

Recently Ruth Ellen (now in her forties) and Judice got together for the first time since then to remember the moment.

She knew she had a job to do and a responsibility, she remembers, but Judice made it fun. He explained to her how the camera worked. And now it amuses her to imagine thousands of photos of her forgotten in some bureau drawer.

And he has been just as glad to find out that so many people still use the SX-70 that it's still being repaired and resold and even digitized.

Picture that.

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