Co.Design

A Broken Polaroid Camera Spits Out Amazing Abstract Art

William Miller’s Polaroid SX-70 is broken in all the right places: It warps his film into something resembling abstract art.

New York photographer William Miller thought he scored big when he snapped up an old Polaroid SX-70 at a yard sale for $20. "I’ve always loved this camera," he says in his artist’s statement. "It is an ingeniously conceived, complicated bundle of gears and switches with dozens of moving parts packed in tight like a chrome and leather pistol."

One problem: The camera was broken. "It sometimes spills out two pictures at a time and the film often gets stuck in the gears, exposing and mangling them in unpredictable ways," he says. "The image as it is exposed within the camera becomes pulled and stressed by these violent mechanisms, often to abstraction."

He thought about returning it. But then he realized he could generate equally, if not more, intriguing images just by letting the defects work their weird, warpy magic.

The photographs in Ruined Polaroids are beautiful mistakes in a very real sense. They’re abstract, painterly, and wildly varied from one shot to the next. "I’ve figured out how to control and accentuate aspects of the camera’s flaws," Miller says, "but the images themselves are always a surprise. Each one is determined by the idiosyncrasies of the film and the camera."

Prints are for sale in two sizes, 30 inches by 36 inches, and 58 inches by 45 inches. Contact Miller for pricing.

[Images courtesy of William Miller; h/t It’s Nice That]

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16 Comments

  • C. David

    Gee, now I'm sorry I didn't save my Polaroid from when I was a kid growing up in the 80's; I could be making a fortune now declaring all the ruined photos as "art", and call myself an "artiste".

  • Alice T

    absolutely AWESOME! Some of these images remind me of Patrick Heron's work. Patrick Heron's my all time favourite painter!

  • golriz

    i love this story because so many objects are tossed aside when they're broken but with a little imagination perhaps we can find a second 'shelf life' for them.

  • SerketStudios

    While it may not be classical art, it still is art because Miller recognized them as such and advanced this mini form of craft. If this camera hadn't found its way into his hands, someone else would have just thrown it away.

  • Kevin Soon

    This makes me want to destroy my polaroid camera intentionally, in the name of art of course.

  • Suleman Ali

    It's art because the photos have been identified and recognised as art by an artist, especially since he can 'control and accentuate'. 

  • Steven Leighton

     " ..but the images themselves are always a surprise. Each one is determined by the idiosyncrasies of the film and the camera.”

    I'm not an art snob but I think, and perhaps I'm wrong, an artist has to be in control of the work, invest the work with meaning and not be the victim of random mechanical errors.

    Pretty pictures; though I don't think anyone will be looking at them and being provoked by them in 10 years time.

  • Christine de la Garza

    This story made me think of one of my favorite books from long ago, "Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins. One of the more prominent themes in this book (and there are many) asks (without asking) "What is art? and "Who is an artist?" 
    We're never given any answers. We're simply compelled to open up and consider the context within which art is created... and to muse over the wonders of talent, inspiration, fate, free will and following our instincts.

  • P.Mcdonald

     When asking "what is art" and "who is an artist" if the answer is anyone that has a broken camera then by extension everything becomes art and everyone is an artist. If that's true then by the principles of supply and demand if everyone is an artist then there is no need for artists so artists and art lose all value.

    Everyone can express themselves but it's not always art. What we have here is an interesting novelty but it's no more art than an interesting stain on the wall.