The Polaroid Museum — Las Vegas, NV (2014–2016)

The Polaroid Museum is dead. Long live the Polaroid Museum.

I just returned from Las Vegas where I spent the past week relocating our Photo & Go store down the block at the LINQ. For those who may not be aware, back in April 2014 we opened the flagship location of what was formerly known as Polaroid Fotobar. The second floor of this location housed the first-ever Polaroid Museum.

The recent move and changes are part of a larger shift for our company — away from the Polaroid brand to our own called Photo & Go. During the week I spent in town, as we removed each piece of the museum I found myself getting a bit reflective on the breakdown of this huge undertaking which we built only two short years ago.

When we first set out to do this back in early 2013, I’m not sure we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into — I certainly didn’t. Loan agreements and conservation fees, fine art insurance policies, UV protective window coating, zero-VOC paint, artists’ rights authorizations and more. But with the help, guidance and love of a number of key people we birthed an actual museum— even if it was short-lived and had its share of critics.

The journey from concept to reality included research trips to Harvard, MIT & Vassar, the opportunity to be photographed on the rare 20x24 Polaroid camera (two times!) and by Lucas Michael on the famous Big Shot camera.

(Clockwise L-R) 20x24 Polaroid, Harvard’s Baker Library, Lucas Michael, 20x24 Polaroid Camera.

While every exhibit in the museum was special in its own unique way — I mean we even had a Warhol exhibit, come on! — there were a few which stood out for me:

  1. The 20x24 Polaroid camera and Tim Mantoani’s Behind Photographs installation in which he celebrates his own medium by featuring famous photographers and their work. Using the 20x24, Mantoani has captured more than 150 acclaimed photographers posing alongside their most recognizable shots. Truly inspiring work.
  2. Our mobile photography collaboration with Josh Johnson, Kevin Kuster and the #JJ Community. 108,000 photos submitted. 3,800 finalists hanging in the Polaroid Museum. 9 Instant Storytellers featured from around the world. A true celebration of mobile photography today.

On a personal level I am grateful for all the experiences this crusade offered me, for the amazing and talented people I met along the way and for the relationships and friends I am fortunate to have gained.

And yet of all the unique, one-of-a-kind exhibits that we were privileged to feature, my most cherished part of the museum was a simple quote on a wall from Polaroid’s Founder back in 1970.

“We have to go back to 1944 to the very first concept of a kind of photography that would become part of the human being, an adjunct to your memory, something that was always with you so that when you looked at something you could in effect press a button and have a record of it — and its accuracy, its intricacy, its beauty — forever…the dream which I used to talk about then of being able to take a wallet out of my pocket and perhaps open the wallet, press a button, close the wallet and have the picture.”
— Edwin Land, The Long Walk, 1970

Dr. Land was of course describing his Polaroid camera. But he was also a man ahead of his time, describing what today is a major part of our lives — the smartphone and its picture taking capabilities. Our Polaroid Museum married Polaroid’s past with the future of photography. And while Dr. Land was instrumental in molding the concepts of instant and collaborative sharing through his iconic company, decades later it’s clear that Land couldn’t have been more on target when he decided to revolutionize the modern imaging industry by making photos quick, easy and accessible to all. Through today’s continued technological advances and robust growth of the social media landscape, we have taken that idea to the most extreme heights; we have truly all become photographers.

And so while the lights have been shut and the last artwork and artifacts returned to their rightful owners, the idea of what the museum stood for lives on.

Today, everyone is a photographer in their own right. We capture hundreds of perfect moments, each with a very personal story. Don Draper put it perfectly when he said of photos in a famous pitch for that other camera company with the yellow box:

“It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

This is what the Polaroid Museum was and will remain as — a testament to the power and meaning of photography to so many people on such a very personal level.

There was one more famous Edwin Land quote — perhaps his most famous— hanging in the museum which cannot go unmentioned:

“Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”

Mission accomplished, Dr. Land. I’d say we did just that.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to our brief yet meaningful tribute to one of America’s greatest companies. In no particular order: Debbie Douglas, Christopher Bonanos, Mary-Kay Lombino, Nadine Peyser, Eric Shiner, Tim Mahoney, David Bushman, Elsa Dorfman, John Reuter, Tracy Storer, Lucas Michael, Maurizio Galimberti, Federica Ragni, Marc Serota, Maripol, Joan Parks Whitlow, Ariel Weinberg, Genevieve Fong, Josh Johnson, Kevin Kuster, Stephen Silberkraus, Tim Mantoani, Oscar Kayzak, Gonzalo Mavila, Flora Lichtman, Nafis Azad, Scott Goldman, Bill Ray, Max Aube, our Polaroid Museum founders who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign and last but surely not least, the entire team at Polaroid and Polaroid Fotobar for their support, encouragement and hard work in making this dream a reality.