One Photographer Reveals: The SX-70 Was the Sexiest Camera of the ’70s & ’80s

Photo: Portraits of An Era, Polaroid Collage #1 (1975–1984), 

Back in the early 1970s, Polaroid introduced the SX-70, a revolution in photography. Here was the medium at the height of modernity. Into a camera that snapped open and shut, film cartridges were inserted. Then the camera was aimed: point, click, and shoot—and a square-format image came sliding out. The film developed there, right before your eyes. People couldn’t hold back, they started shaking the print to make the image come in faster.

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Suddenly, a revolution was born. It was a party in a camera. It was instant gratification. And the colors—the colors were out of this world. They had nuance and depth, adding a certain touch and creating an instant patina of nostalgia, yet forever au courant.

Socialite Averil Meyer, 1977.

Socialite Averil Meyer, 1977.

Photographer Christopher Makos started using the SX-70 in 1975. He remembers, “It was more than a picture. It was socializing. You took it, you shook it, and you both had a vested interest in it. I wanted to see if it came out. Is it good? Do we want to do another? With regular film photography, you’d have to wait a week to get the pictures back.”

This immediacy Is evident throughout the work, a portion of which has been selected for Portraits of An Era, Polaroid Collage #1 (1975–1984), produced in association with Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles. The work features 81 images made with the SX-70, brilliantly edited for the ultimate feeling of a weekend escapade. There is a sense of layers and depth that comes with the work, as Makos takes us across his universe to a world filled with the likes of Halston, Man Ray, and Peter Beard.

Andy Warhol with two cameras at the Factory.

Andy Warhol with two cameras at the Factory.

Speaking of the impact of the instant photograph in an analogue world, Makos observes, “The next step of humankind is looking at itself. This has a bigger impact than people think. It’s like selfies today and the impact of them. Humankind will develop and change and keep taking pictures of our selves. You hold a mirror to yourself.”

When Polaroid supplied Warhol’s Factory with boxes of SX-70 film, Makos recalls, “You were liberated from how much you shot if you hadn’t invested financially. It was also liberation to have the privacy to take a naked photo and not have to take the film to a lab. You had an entire studio in your hand. The studio was where ever you were.”

Karin Smatt

Karin Smatt

Does it get any better than this? Surely it can’t. Unless the people who enter into your orbit are legends themselves. Then the SX-70 adds another layer to the experience, it’s pure informality creating a a sense of casual glamour throughout the work. The Polaroid is casual, lending itself to a sense of freedom that makes the moment come alive with a quiet intensity.

Makos archives his Polaroids for posterity, taking great measures to keep each work in mint condition. The result is an incomparable archive that stands the test of time, becoming all the most emblematic of the zeitgeist. Though take three and four decades ago, the sultry style and casual insouciance of his subjects speaks to the culture today. In a world of instant gratification, what is more alluring than an actual photograph?

OJ Simpson on the set of "Firepower."

OJ Simpson on the set of “Firepower.”

All photos: ©Christopher Makos, courtesy of Makos Studio, New York and Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.