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Innovators through history: Edwin Land

Innovators through history: Edwin Land

To mark the launch of the NZ Innovators Awards for 2012, we're celebrating a series of vaunted innovators and inventors throughout time.

Polaroid SX-70 instant camera

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, GFDL

Who: Edwin Land

What: The Polaroid SX-70 instant camera. Although Land had invented previous instant cameras as early as the 1940s, the SX-70 was the first model to do away with the pesky complications that earlier models involved, which required users to pull out the film with exactly the right amount of force, wait several minutes for it to develop, and peel away the photographic paper. Photographers also risked chemical residue from the photos rubbing off onto hands. The SX-70 was simpler, neater, and more efficient.

When: 1972

Impact: At the 1972 Polaroid Corporation’s annual meeting, before unveiling the SX-70 for the first time, Land said “photography will never be the same after today.” For the first time, Land had achieved his dream of creating the ultimate in “one-step photography” – the project was even codenamed Aladdin in reference to the magical quality Polaroid was aiming for.

Power, Fame and Money: Land received honorary degrees from many institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Columbia. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the highest award given to a US citizen, and he was included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977. Land also received many other awards and accolades during his lifetime.

Legacy: Even though the Polaroid Corporation declared bankruptcy (twice) and even stopped production of instant film – and Land was actually booted out of his own company a decade after the SX-70 was invented – instant photography is more popular than ever. The SX-70 and other Polaroid cameras have been turned into objects of vintage technological nostalgia, with enthusiasts snapping them up. And of course, now there’s the widely popular Instagram, which lets users turn photos taken on their state-of-the-art smartphones into classic Polaroid picture replicas. Now you, too, can make your photos look like they were taken in 1972.

Got a great idea you’re bursting to share? Then enter yourself or someone you know into the NZ Innovators Awards.

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