Eames Directed Polaroid SX-70 Orientation Film (1972)

By Norman Chan

This wonderful advertisement for the collapsible Polaroid camera gets delightfully technical.

A new book by New York Magazine Editor Christopher Bonanos coming out this month documents the history of Polaroid, its cameras, and the company's relationship with its visionary founder, Edwin Land. A promo video for the book includes a rare scene from The Long Walk, a prescient film Land made about the future of photography. Polaroid's Land Camera revolutionized consumer photography, and followed up with the affordable Swinger camera (just $19.95) which was one of the best selling cameras in history. The SX-70 was just as groundbreaking, and was the first instant camera with automatically ejected prints.

To promote the SX-70, Polaroid commissioned the design firm of Charles and Ray Eames to produce this wonderful orientation film teaching consumers how to use the SX-70. The 11 minute documentary is characteristic of Eames' 70s-era works (you may have seen the famous Powers of 10 film), and dives into the technical operation of the camera. Here's a transcribed excerpt describing the single-reflex lens system:

This optical path from subject to eye is unique to this single-reflex system. All elements are articulated to fold into a compact unit that folds flat. The four-element lens collects the light, which bounces off of a permanent mirror to a fine Fresnel surface. It bundles the light and reflects it back again to the same mirror. The light leaves the interior of the camera through two astigmatism-correcting slits bouncing off of an aspheric plastic mirror, which focuses the image in space. It is this image that is seen through the eyepiece, which is itself aspheric. When the picture is taken, the Fresnel moves, elevating the taking mirror so that the image that had fallen onto the retina of the photographer's eye is reflected onto the film.

Polaroid's novel instant film technology and the Eames firm's unique directoral aesthetic makes for a perfect marriage in this terrific film. If you enjoyed it, I also recommend this documentary about Charles and Ray Eames, which is on Netflix Instant Streaming.