Gentlemen Take Polaroids was the band's first album for the Virgin Records label, after leaving Hansa-Ariola, who had released their first three albums, some months earlier. It continued in the vein of their previous album Quiet Life, utilising a combination of electronic elements coupled with more traditional instruments. This was the last Japan album to feature guitarist Rob Dean, who left the band in spring 1981.
The album was preceded by the release of the title track as a single in October 1980, which peaked at number 60 in the UK Singles Chart, the group's first single to chart.
Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released on 24 October 1980. It was moderately successful in the UK, where it peaked at number 51. The album was later certified Gold by the BPI in 1986 for 100,000 copies sold.
No further singles were immediately taken from the album, though "Nightporter" (influenced by the works of French composer Erik Satie, most particularly his Gymnopedies) was remixed and released as a single in November 1982, just after the band announced that it was splitting. It peaked at number 29 in the UK Singles Chart, though both the edited 7" version and the full-length 12" remix remain unreleased on CD to this day.
The album was reissued in 2003, with slightly different cover art (taken from the same photo session as the original cover) and three bonus tracks (see below).
Gentlemen Take Polaroids has been well-received by critics. Writing in Smash Hits magazine in November 1980, Steve Taylor gave the album 8/10 and wrote: "If Brian Eno, rather than Bryan Ferry, had rerouted the original direction of Roxy Music, this might well have been the result..."
In his retrospective review, Ned Raggett of AllMusic called it "unquestionably the album in which Japan truly found its own unique voice and aesthetic approach."