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Even those without the needed background will move toward understanding. All readers will benefit from the photographs and the discussions of philosophy and aesthetics. Those waiting for a demystification of fractals appropriate for the general public will need to wait longer. LAND’S POLAROID-A COMPANY AND THE MAN WHO INVENTED IT by Peter C. Wensberg. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987. 358 pp., illus. Trade, $18.95. ISBN: 0-395-421 14-4. Reviewed by Richard I. Land, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A. Understanding creativity, the forces that drive it,the complications that arise in its expression and the consequences of its success has been the subject of many studies. This report from a first-hand participant offers glimpses of the process. There are no conclusions, and opinion is rare; the book merely documents a unique event in our time. Indeed, our time provides a very intrusive context for a man driven to invent and produce technological products unimagined by anyone else. The author wisely refers to Ford, Edison and Bell to create a context to clarify Edwin Land’s concerns and ambitions. In thirty-four spare, but factfilled , anecdotes Land’s creation and leadership of the Polaroid Company are selectively revealed from the company’s beginnings with polarizing materials through the instant picture and the successful patent suit against Kodak to Land’s retirement in 1982. Along with the intriguing history of the company, therearedescriptionsof various inventions in significant detail and in lay terms. How the layers of instant film produce the imageswe see, the differences between early systems and the most modern color prints, and what were the problems that had to be overcome in these remarkable inventions, are a few of the careful explanations offered. The amazing breadth of creativity involving optics, chemistry and the invention of mechanical devices is not emphasized beyond innovations in procedure. First working with a small group in the initial struggles, Land is shown as a man of integrity and fairness, seemingly in touch with everything. Then as research and invention continue frantically, the concerns of a growing company get selective attention. The book seems to show a lesson about effects of scale, as the company grows to demand talents and time that are not within the reach of a single individual, no matter how extraordinary . The author, in 24 years with Polaroid, became a principal officer responsible for marketing and was not part of the technical engine that was the source of wonder. While the book is an ‘insider’s’ view, there is also something of being outside as the stories unfold. In the early chapters the tale of Land’s beginnings and school days is dry and studied, but as the storyof instantphotography develops, the metaphors glow, humor warms, and reading assumes the frantic urgency one expects of a mystery. By focusing on single topics the author successfully handles the difficult task of reporting events that overlapped and intertwined. With each successive topic, earlier threads are woven into place, giving a context for further results. Polaroid’s work for the U.S. government typified by development of the U-2 is offered in detail,and in other stories corporate activities and camera development are also clearly discussed. This technique also allows clear presentation of the South Africa incidents that were sodisappointing and frustrating for Land. The chronicle of inventions was of most interest to me (I am, incidentally, of no relation to the book’s subject). The interaction of a brilliant man with a growing company is fascinating. The fact that flawedjudgement and forces beyond one man’s control could have such impact on the flow of productive research and developing consumer technology is vividly displayed. In some aspects it is Greek tragedy in modern dress, a monumental victory with shades of defeat as well. The author cautions accurately that this is not a biography, indeed the man, Edwin Land, is seen only from time to time and often disappears from the story, just as he apparentlydid into his lab. This is a chance to see into the creation and production of objects, as well as their relation to a technologically hungry public. ARTISTS’MATERIALS by Ian Hebblewhite. Phaidon...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
p. 328
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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