The International Polaroid Collection: Impossible And WestLicht Museum Of Photography Preserve A Legacy Of Images

Editor’s note: One of the joys of attending photokina in Cologne, Germany every two years was the display at the Polaroid stand (they had a hall to themselves) where works by renowned artists and photographers on Polaroid materials would be displayed. When the old company went out of business many of us were concerned with what happened to that collection. Now, the International Polaroid Collection has been preserved, thanks to the Impossible Project and WestLicht. Following is their official announcement, plus they courteously granted us permission to reproduce a few images from the vast collection as well.

Lucien Clergue, Le Cerf Volant, Bretagne, 1984, Polaroid SX-70 Time Zero.
© Lucien Clergue

Thanks to the commitment of Impossible, the producer of the new analog instant film material, the Vienna-based Museum of Photography WestLicht purchased the International Polaroid Collection. WestLicht purchased over 4400 artworks from 800 artists (from Ansel Adams to Andy Warhol).

Formed between 1972 and 1990 by Polaroid, the legendary International Collection disappeared for 20 years in the archives of the Swiss Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. Peter Coeln, owner of the WestLicht Museum and also an investor in the Impossible Project, has now saved the Polaroid Collection, which had been put on the market by the liquidators dealing with the assets of the insolvent company. For almost two years the future of the unique Polaroid collection was fairly uncertain. The spectacular acquisition at the last moment secures the continued existence of this historic collection and presents it to the public for the first time.

Luigi Ghirri, Amsterdam, 1980, Polaroid Polacolor, 20x24”.
© Eredi di Luigi Ghirri

The future of the previously hidden analog treasure is thus not only saved but also brighter than ever before. After all these years the collection is finally going to be reconnected with its original concept. Dr. Florian Kaps, founder of the Impossible Project, says: “Most important is the fact that we finally found a perfect solution for not only celebrating the incredible potential of all the existing artworks, but that we also formed a great setup to re-start the original concept by inviting contemporary artists to join this ongoing project by supplying them with the new generation of Impossible instant films.”

The first impressions of this collaboration were presented at WestLicht in a show this summer.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1987, 28x22”.
© Untitled Press Inc.

About WestLicht Museum of Photography
WestLicht encompasses an exhibition venue for photography and photographic art, an historic camera collection, an auction house and an extensive library specialized in photography. The co-existence of art, science, and technology, in a relaxed and stylish atmosphere makes this space unique on the cultural landscape of Vienna. The exhibition program covers the whole spectrum of photographic genres and subjects. Young contemporary artists are presented, as well as better-known photographers, such as Ansel Adams, Thomas Hoepker and Nobuyoshi Araki. Themed or historic exhibitions and the internationally touring World Press Photo also make up a vital part of the WestLicht showcase. With its impressive profile and approximately 60,000 visitors a year, WestLicht has established itself as the hotspot for photography in Austria. Learn more at:

Oliviero Toscani, Andy Warhol with camera, 1974, Polaroid Type 105, 31⁄4x41⁄4”.
© Oliviero Toscani

About The Collection
During the late 1940s the physicist and Polaroid founder Edwin Herbert Land invented the instant film process, which was a revolution for photography. Right from the beginning of his invention Land invited famous photographers and artists to experiment with the material. The company built two unrivaled collections, one based in Europe and the other in the United States. After Polaroid’s insolvency in 2008 both collections were at risk of being torn apart. Sotheby’s in New York auctioned rarities from the American collection in 2010. Due to the commitment of Impossible and WestLicht, the European collection was saved from suffering the same fate.

One of the main attractions of the collection are the 1400 large format Polaroids (20x24 inch). These images were taken with a special, custom-made camera and film material not available on the market. Czech photographer Jan Hnizdo, chief operator of Polaroid, traveled to selected photographers and artists with this camera. Conceptual art such as collages, opulent arrangements and trendy staging reflect the zeitgeist of the ’70s and ’80s. Next to the more well-known photographers there are also many works of outstanding photographers unknown on the art market until now.

“I am both happy and proud,” Peter Coeln says, “that it was possible to keep the collection intact in its entirety and make it finally accessible.” The surprise coup was realized in a very special year for the museum. In 2011 WestLicht celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Mary Ellen Mark, 1990, 33⁄4x3”.
© Mary Ellen Mark

About Impossible
Impossible keeps analog instant photography alive by manufacturing various new and unique analog instant films. Learn more at: