Polaroids: 'The First Social Network'

1947: Harvard dropout Edwin Land unveils the first Polaroid camera.
Photograph by Christopher Makos

1947 Harvard dropout Edwin Land unveils the first Polaroid camera.

Polaroids were the first social network. You’d take a picture, and someone would say, “I want one, too,” so you’d give it away and take another. People shared Polaroids the way they now share information on social media. Of course, it was more personal, because you were sharing with just one person, not the entire world.

I met Andy Warhol in the ’70s at the Whitney Museum and started doing projects with him because he loved my photographs. He’d never had a pal who was a photographer, so I was his guru, showing him what cameras to buy, what pictures to take. When Polaroid came out with its SX-70 model, the company sent big boxes of film and cameras to the Factory, which was at 860 Broadway (it’s now a Petco). Andy loved Polaroid. Everything was “gee whiz”; it was brand-new. So immediate. I took photos of him with his new toy.

It wasn’t about the accuracy of the technology; it was about the moment. I loved the intimacy that when you took pictures, it was just you and the person. Taking a selfie with a Polaroid is also very intimate. They weren’t called selfies back then, obviously. People weren’t as self-aware. We didn’t have 10 years of reality TV shows in the social consciousness. But Polaroid marked the beginning of self-awareness. “No, I don’t like that picture, take another”—that kind of talk came about. —As told to Caroline Winter

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