Interview: Richard McCabe (part two)

Interview: Richard McCabe 

(Part Two~ Land Star and Beyond)

Richard McCabe is a curator, writer, and photographer. He was born in England and grew up in the American South. In 1998, he received an MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University. For the past nineteen years he has lived and worked in New York City and New Orleans.

Since 2010, McCabe has been the Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He has curated over twenty-five exhibitions including: Seeing Beyond the Ordinary, The Mythology of Florida, The Rising, Eudora Welty: Photographs from the 1930s – 40s, Contemporary Alabama Photography, and The Colourful South.

 

Chicken
Richard McCabe

When I hear the words “land star” I get this wonderfully nostalgic road trip vibe. I know you travel a lot and these images are collected from throughout the U.S. would you say that your subject matter finds you or do find them ?

All of the photographs in the LAND STAR series were made in the American South. I make most of the pictures on road trips that I do on my own or when I’m traveling for work.  Most were shot on back roads. I’m interested in car culture, transitory spaces, and travel. My favorite films are road films – Easy Rider, Paris, Texas, my favorite songs are road songs – Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue, Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, and my favorite book – Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The mythology of the road and car culture, the journey. I see these things I photograph like Duchamp’s ready-mades – they are there in the landscape, and I just need to find or stumble upon them.

“…I come to photo curating from a different angle as an artist as opposed to a historian or a purely academic angle.”

Tire Man

Your work also reminds me of the music of Big Star. Thinking of the song Ballad of El Gordo in particular. Pushing against the fold, confident in its identity, melancholic but bright. Would that be a fair assessment of this work?

Yeah I can see that – I love Big Star and the imagery their music paints, but I think my photographs are more like REM’s Driver 8 – HA! I think there is a signature “look” to my photographs that is recognizable – the turbo-charged color, composition, image/text and humor.

Beauty
Richard McCabe

Big question: can you talk about striking a balance between your curator’s eye and your photographer’s eye?

I was taking pictures long before I became a curator. Santa Claus brought me my first camera – a GAF 126 when I was 10 years old and I’ve been photographing ever since. I studied photography in school and have an MFA in Studio Art. So I’m a rarity in the art curators world in that I’m from a fine arts background, not art history or arts administration. But I think that’s a good thing – and I’ve had a lot of the photographers I’ve worked with at the museum tell me that they think it’s cool that I’m a photographer. And the best compliment I can get is when these great accomplished photographers tell me they like my work.

So I come to photo curating from a different angle as an artist as opposed to a historian or a purely academic angle. I think it’s refreshing my photography and photo curating cross-pollinate each other. I learn from the exhibitions I curate – things like composition, conceptual ideas, and art theory. Also, my working knowledge of photographic processes and technical understanding I’ve learned through practice, school, and teaching comes into play when evaluating work for exhibitions.

 

Lounge
Richard McCabe

What’s coming up for you?

Working on the LAND STAR book – comes out in November or early December 2017. I’m in a couple group exhibitions next few months – Instantaneous: The Polaroid Legacy, in Durham, NC and an AINT – BAD curated instant exhibition in Atlanta. I will have a LAND STAR solo exhibition during PHOTONOLA and a pop-up open studio/exhibition the first week in December. Looking forward to shooting more with 120mm film – working on a project about memory, mythology, place, paradise lost, centered around my life in Florida and Alabama. Not sure where that’s going but it’s my next project – looking forward to making bigger prints. The new work deals with a lot of the same material subject matter in LAND STAR but in more of a metaphorical way – not as objective more subjective.

I’m also, looking forward to the upcoming exhibitions I’m curating at the Ogden Museum including the largest Photography exhibition the Ogden has ever organized – NEW SOUTHERN PHOTOGRAPHY which opens in October 2018. It’s going to be great – featuring the work of 25 photographers/filmmakers. I’ve been working on the exhibition since 2012 – there will be a catalogue and hope to travel NEW SOUTHERN PHOTOGRAPHY to other venues across America.

Palmist
Richard McCabe

 

 

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Interview: Richard McCabe

Interview: Richard McCabe

(Part One~ The Evolution of Land Star)

Richard McCabe is a curator, writer, and photographer. He was born in England and grew up in the American South. In 1998, he received an MFA in Studio Art from Florida State University. For the past nineteen years he has lived and worked in New York City and New Orleans.

Since 2010, McCabe has been the Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He has curated over twenty-five exhibitions including: Seeing Beyond the Ordinary, The Mythology of Florida, The Rising, Eudora Welty: Photographs from the 1930s – 40s, Contemporary Alabama Photography, and The Colourful South.

 

Gas Station
Richard McCabe

When and why did you start photographing with instant film?

I have flirted with Polaroid and instant photography for a long while now – the first time I really started photographing seriously with instant film was in 1998. I had just graduated with an MFA from Florida State University and I moved to NYC. I did not have access to a darkroom, I did not have a digital camera – but I did have 2 Polaroid cameras – an SX-70 and a Land Camera. I bought those cameras for $10 each at the T & W flea market in Pensacola, Florida. Polaroid cameras allowed me to make photographs without a darkroom, studio or ink jet printer. From about 1998 – 2003, I photographed with the Polaroid cameras in and around Brooklyn where I lived. It was kind of a natural progression for me – because in grad school I made allot of lo-fi analogue installations using slide and overhead projectors – mainly because FSU did not have digital projectors or video equipment that I wanted to make video art. So I “made do” with second hand and antiquated materials as a way to make art. I love and I’m very influenced by folk art and artists – who make something out of nothing – what one of my professors Jim Roche called – “Make Do” art and that’s what I did.

“One thing I should mention is – I hope my instant photographs are good photographs – not just good instant photographs.”

Yellow Arrow

There is a problem in the photography world with process or technique driven work. It’s usually really bad – gear heads and the “I only work in tintypes” crowd. For example, I’ve heard a photographer say “19th century processes is the only real photography.”  Don’t get me wrong I love 19th century processes – just using this as an example of some photographer’s dogmatic reliance on techniques or process. When I look at a photograph I like it or not based on if it resonates with me visually – the image itself how does it make me feel – as opposed to how was it made?  If “how did you do that” is the question your photographs elicit – then that’s not usually the question you want asked.

I know PACK PEEL POUR is all about instant photography and that’s great – but it’s also about great photography that happens to be made with instant film.  One of the reasons I work with instant film and curated a 2014 exhibition at the Ogden Museum – Self Processing:  Instant Photography is I always felt that instant/Polaroid photography had been overlooked or looked down upon by photo snobs or the photo-intelligentsia as a lesser form of photography – because it’s not a sacred gelatin silver print or whatever.  It seems the Polaroid was thought of as a thumbnail sketch to the Gelatin Silver print – which is thought of as oil on canvas painting. Pissing off photo snobs with instant photography is fun, especially when I start doing abstract color grids. I can hear them now, “that’s not photography” – well yes it is!

Meyers
Richard McCabe

How long have you been creating work for Land Star

The LAND STAR photographs were made over a four-year period between 2014 – 2017.

 How did the series evolve? Was it always exclusively shot with instant film?

 I originally called the series Roadside Ruins – that work culminated in the 2014 exhibition – Once around the Sun at Boyd Satellite Gallery in New Orleans. The Roadside Ruins series began in 2008 and was initially shot with a plastic Diana/Holga camera, after which I switched to photographing Roadside Ruins with a Polaroid Land Camera and instant film. In the winter of 2014, I was talking with Blake Boyd – who has made great work with instant photography – the Louisiana Cereal series that will soon be a book. We were talking about our love of instant photography. I told Blake how I wanted to start shooting instant film again – he responded that if I did he would give me an exhibition at his gallery – Boyd Satellite for PHOTONOLA 2014.  That gave me a reason to shoot instant film again – starting in winter of 2014 through the present, I’ve photographed almost exclusively with a 1960s era Polaroid Land Camera and Fuji-FP100c film. After the Once Around the Sun exhibition in December 2014– I kept photographing with instant film – because it’s so much fun and the exhibition was so well received – so last year I changed the title of the 2014 -16 instant work to LAND STAR – to encompass the whole four years of shooting with instant film.

The title LAND STAR comes from the name of the inventor of the Polaroid camera and film – Edwin LAND and the light source that enables photography to be possible our nearest STAR – the sun. The Polaroid camera and film works perfectly with the subject matter I’m dealing with in LAND STAR – abandoned, desolate, obsolete sites – Americana, signage roadside snapshots – Like Sally Mann’s use of 19th century collodian large plate negatives to photograph 19th century Civil War battlefields – it just made sense.

Pumping to Please
Richard McCabe

Speaking of film, you shoot with Fujifilm FP100C which may be a dying breed. does this idea frighten you ~ in terms of this series?

Fuji announced about a year ago that they were discontinuing the FP-100C film. As of now its still available – but the price has tripled to around $24.00 a pack.  I’m saddened because it’s such a wonderful process and the film produces a great color saturated print – which I actually think is better than the original Polaroid peel apart film from back in the day. I’m not so much frightened more saddened – I just think there is a great market for the film, I know so many photographers who are working with instant film – especially the Fuji pull apart film and I can’t believe its not profitable but obviously its not – that’s the only reason why Fuji would discontinue it. But I’ll roll with the punches. It is going to force me to move in another direction. I’m starting to shoot with my medium format film cameras – which is a good thing.

 

What do you like about FP100C? Why this film as opposed to others from Fuji?  

Well what I love about Instant film/print in general is – the scale is totally out of synch with modern art photographic prints. The print is an object that you can hold in your hand – it’s tactile – and exists in the real world not just virtually on a computer screen. And the print is unique – one-of-a-kind that runs counter from editions and multiple prints that can be made from a single negative or file – so the instant print is more like a painting or a drawing.  

In particular I’ve shot the black & white Fuji 3000 film that is now discontinued. I think its wonderful film – Jen Ervin’s work with the Fuji 3000 film is amazing! Its just not for me. I like color and color photography, and the color saturation on the Fuji FP100C is wonderful – it really pops like the old Polaroid SX-70 film.  I also do photo abstractions with the Fuji Instax color film, which I like, but the size of the FP-100 print, 8.5 cm x 10.8 cm, the rectangle, and the color saturation all make FP-100C my favorite instant film.

How limiting or freeing is it to work with materials that are “short dated” so to speak?

It is limiting because its gotten so dang expensive and its freeing because it forces me to move on and work with other photo processes and create a new series – change the direction of my work. It’s time, it has been a good run – I’ve made a series I’m proud of and I have 100+ images that I think are exhibition quality.

 

Red, White and Blue
Richard McCabe

Will the series end when the film ends?  

Yes, although, it might actually end before that. I have 5 packs left. But what is really putting an end to the whole LAND STAR series is the LAND STAR book that will be published by AINT – BAD. The book comes out in fall of 2017. So that will be the appropriate end to my experiments with the Fuji instant pull apart film, but I will continue working with the Fuji Instax – making abstractions and grids.

 

Part Two of our interview will be published next week.

Also, we are happy to announce that Pack Peel Pour’s first Artist’s Portfolio will be Richard McCabe, Land Star.

 

The portfolio is an edition of 10 and features 10 images from McCabe’s Land Star series.

More information, next week.

 

 

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Instagram Archive – Ashley Gates

Ashley Gates

Ashley Gates

Guest Programmer

Ashley Gates is a Mississippi-born photographer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been exhibited in galleries across the U.S. including the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, Aperture Foundation, and the Eudora Welty House and Garden. Her book of found Polaroids, We Didn’t See Each Other After That, was exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum and was selected as one of photo-eye’s Best Photobooks of 2016.

Canton, Mississippi, shot with a Polaroid Land Camera and Fuji FP-3000B This is Ashley Gates @cosmopsis taking over @packpeelpour

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Interview: Thom Bennett

Signposts in a Strange Land” is a photographic exploration of empty vernacular signage along the backroads of the South by photographer Thom Bennett. Walker Percy recognized the South as a strange, exotic place, unlike anywhere else in America; a place that clings to the past and stubbornly refuses to accept the present. His book of essays, published posthumously, entitled Signposts in a Strange Land, is a jumping off point for this series, which explores the themes of the past, alienation, language (or, rather, the lack thereof), and loss.

I’m amazed that the words and signage will disappear but the structure of the sign is not taken down. Why do people leave up an empty sign? ~ Thom Bennett

Can you give us 10 words to describe your “empty signs” series?

South, Malaise, Empty, Bleak, Worn, Sculptural, Loss, History, Alienation, Languageless.

Go on…

Louisiana (and the South in general) is such a unique and strange place and, in both urban and rural areas, there is always a sense of things being on their last legs but somehow holding on. Tumbledown is a word that comes to mind. These signs, like the past, once held meaning and were guideposts to things of particular importance. Now just the basic structures remain and we are left to our own imaginations to wonder what they pointed to. Same with our region. Structural institutions that once defined the South no longer exist. I think in some ways we’re still trying to fill in the blanks and create a new South.

Walker Evans famously wrote that color photography was “vulgar.” He seemed to soften on that view a bit when he started working with SX-70 cameras and film in the early seventies, stating, “…nobody should touch a Polaroid until he’s over sixty.” You are well short of sixty, shooting signs with monochromatic instant film and an admirer of Evans’ work, does that aphorism ring true in any way for you?

Well, not too far from sixty! I started using the SX-70 again when The Impossible Project began making film after Polaroid’s demise. I’ve had an SX-70 since college and would pick it up every now and again not thinking that one day Polaroid would no longer exist. Anyway, I started with TIP’s color film and liked the palette for the signage that I was photographing but, for this series, I wanted to look mainly at the graphic structures of the empty signs so color was not that important. In most of my other work I shoot B&W so that worked for me as well. I was heavily influenced by Evan’s use of the SX-70 and I mentioned to John Lawrence {Director of Museum Programs at HNOC} during a review that I felt like I was cribbing from the greats by photographing signage and he said, “Well, photographing signs is a grand tradition within photography.” That helped loosen me up and before I knew it I was taking photographing signs in my own direction.

Your signs no longer function as signs in terms of advertising or utility. Semiotically speaking, though, the conversation never ends. Since the signs no longer “communicate” directly with us, thus losing its most basic meaning (and identity), do they still symbolize anything for you?

 

Yes, I think by their sheer presence in the landscape they remind us that something was once here that was important and required a visual reference to guide the viewer (consumer). I’m amazed that the words and signage will disappear but the structure of the sign is not taken down. Why do people leave up an empty sign? Do they have the hope that one day the sign will again be utilized? Or is it just too much work to bother with taking it down? I guess it can be see both ways.

 

And because these signs are no longer communicating in their original graphic design sense, have they already become a kind of public art/sculpture even before you shoot them?

 

Exactly. What I try to do is frame them within their current context to make as graphic a representation as I can. I’m very concerned with composition and how I frame these within the landscape they sit in. I’ll try to walk around each sign so I can to see where it fits best with the background and surrounding landscape.

It’s (somewhat painfully) obvious that time has passed since these signs were new. What about this aspect of time in your images? Is that important for you?  

Yes, but most of these signs are, to my mind, not really that old. Maybe 20 to 30 years old? Not that old in the scheme of things. But they’ve been allowed to go to seed. I think it is tied up in how our economy has changed over the last 30 years. Lots of these signs were probably for small businesses that were important to the local community. Now we have big box stores and online shopping. No one needs the local shops anymore. These empty signs are indicative of that.

 

 

The film you use is a reinterpretation of classic polaroid SX-70 film. In many ways it’s extremely fugitive in nature and in all likelihood will fade with time. Are you cool with that?

I worry a bit about that. It’s difficult to get a hard and fast answer to the question of how long these prints will last. I trust that as they age and change that will serve the subject matter as well. All things fall apart and the only constant is change. A hard pill to swallow at times but one we have to embrace.

How does shooting with Impossible instant film affect your editing process?

Since it takes at least 20 minutes to really see what the final picture will look like, I try to nail the exposure and composition in a couple of shots of the same subject. So, I try to edit in camera. There are some anomalies of the film that I don’t like and will immediately edit those photos out. I shoot a lot of these signs so, if one doesn’t work, I’ll either try to go back to it or forget about it and move on. There’s always another one around the corner.  

Do you care about which camera to use?

Kind of. I really like the functionality of the SX-70 as well as the size. I have a Sonar version plus a couple of 680’s that shoot the higher speed film but I’m probably drawn to the SX-70 as, to me, it is the most elegant and nostalgic. And it was a groundbreaking camera when it came out in the ‘70’s. I’m very nostalgic about it.

 

Tell us about the work you have in Louisiana Contemporary at the Ogden Musesm of Southern Art  in August. 

I was lucky to be included in the exhibit! I have six images included and I’m looking forward to seeing how they will be hung. All of these signs have arrows in them so the are tied together visually.

Any other upcoming projects?

I seem to be winding down this particular project and, for an upcoming show during PhotoNOLA, I am going to collage all the empty signs I have into four larger pieces and include some text by Percy overlaying them. Looking for different ways to express to the viewer how they all work together. Originally, I thought each would stand on its on but I think seeing them playing off each other may help strengthen the overall effect.

Thom Bennett is a New Orleans-based commercial photographer; his day job is as staff photographer at M.S. Rau Antiques. He has been using the same SX-70 since buying it new in 1979 and still wishes he had used it more than he did.

See more of his work at thombennettphotographs.com/

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Instagram Archive – Thom Bennett

Thom Bennett

Thom Bennett

Guest Instagrammer

Thom Bennett is a New Orleans-based commercial photographer; his day job is as staff photographer at M.S. Rau Antiques. He has been using the same SX-70 since buying it new in 1979 and still wishes he had used it more than he did.

This is @thomnola taking over @packpeelpour for the week showcasing photographers who have utilized Polaroid and instant materials in their work and continue to inspire us. Guy Bourdin (1928-1991), a protege of Man Ray, upended the fashion world with his surrealistic and evocative images for Vogue, Chanel, and, most famously, Charles Jourdon. Bourdin created scenes that built upon sensual, absurd narratives that made the images, not the products, the focus of attention. He is credited with redirecting fashion photography away from glamour and glitz and into the realm of art and the imagination. His work is held in the permanent collections of MoMA, The Getty, SFMoMA, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. #polaroid #instantphotography #fashionphotography #manray #surrealism #surrealistphotography #1970s

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This is @thomnola taking over @packpeelpour for the week. We're looking at some of the great photographers who have used instant materials to express themselves. Marie Cosindas (1925 – 2017) was working as a textile designer and initially used the camera to make visual notes for upcoming designs. In 1961 she took a workshop with Ansel Adams where he told her, "You're shooting in black and white but you're thinking in color." When Edwin Land asked Adams to recommend someone to test Polaroid's new Polacolor peel-apart film in 1962, Adams immediately thought of Cosindas. During her experiments she "…tried everything: mixing light, temperature control, long exposures, extended development times and filters – and did everything I wasn't supposed to do. The film responded. The results were like no other color I had used." In 1966 she had a solo show of her color work at the Museum of Modern Art, 10 years before Eggleston's seminal exhibit. Her handling of color was painterly and thoughtful; Tom Wolfe compared her to Caravaggio and Gustav Klimt. "The fact that my early photographs did come from a painterly tradition was no accident: I wanted to be a painter." Reluctant to lend her work to galleries because they were one-of-a-kind pieces, her star never rose to the heights of her contemporaries. There is a book of her photographs, published in 1978, "Marie Cosindas: Color Photographs." #instantphotography #polaroid #polaroids #polacolor #impossibleproject #impossibleprojecthq #1960sphotography

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This is @thomnola taking over @packpeelpour for the week. Today we're looking not at one particular photographer but at one particular Polaroid camera – the 20x24 Polaroid and some of the artists who utilized it to create their work. The 20x24 was created in 1976 to showcase the new Polacolor II film, the same materials used for all peel-apart films in 3 1/4 X 4 1/4 to 8x10 format. In 1977 and 1978 five cameras were built and immediately put to work. Basically a 4x5 camera scaled up, the camera provided serious artists with a final 20x24 print in just minutes. Although the cameras weighed 235 lbs. they could be moved out of the studio for location work. There are currently two cameras in operation; one on the east coast and one on the west coast. There is a limited supply of film stock and, once that is used up, this beautiful format will no longer exist. www.20x24studio.com bsidefilm.com #20x24polaroid #instantphotography #instantcolorfilm #polaroid #imagetransfer #mammothcamera #polacolor #largeformatphotography

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This is @thomnola taking over @packpeelpour this week. Going to jump away from the historical work to feature a contemporary photographer, Kevin Lajoie. I met Kevin through the New Orleans Photo Alliance and got a kick out of his doodle project @thedoodleprojectus where he takes a portrait of someone with his SX-70, pastes it onto sketching paper, and has the subject draw a doodle. An interesting take on collaborative work. The other images are from a series entitled, "Saudade," a Portugese word roughly translating to "the feeling of missingness." As Kevin says, "To hold a Polaroid is to hold a memory, and the fact that it is both the positive and the negative isolates it. It can never be recreated, it only is." Kevin's work can be seen in the show, Alien vs. Predator at The New Orleans Art Center, opening tomorrow night (Saturday, August 12, 6-9pm). #sx70 #neworleans #doodles #saudade #stclaudeartsdistrict #stclaudeartwalk

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This is @thomnola taking over @packpeelpour for the week. Today for inspiration we're looking at William Miller's "Ruined Polaroid" series. Miller, a veteran New York photojournalist, bought a broken SX-70 at a yard sale and tried to make it work as it should. One day he took a look at all of the ruined prints the camera had spit out and realized he was on to something very different from his work as a photojournalist. The images were more akin to abstract painting and he began to pay attention the the way the camera processed the prints so he worked to control that as best he could. He scans the final results and prints them quite large at 30"x36". "Photography is a lot like memory, which is to say it's a very unreliable witness. Not the physical lenses and light of a camera (photography is good at deception) but our relationship to images. I love photography but do not trust it at its word." Miller studied photography at Bard College with Larry Fink and Stephen Shore and received an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. www.williammillerphoto.com #polaroid #polaroidsx70 #impossibleproject #impossibleproject_hq #svanyc #bardcollege #ruinedpolaroids #instantfilm

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This is @thomnola doing my final takeover post for @packpeelpour. I want to thank the great minds behind @packpeelpour Seth and Nicole for creating a space that everyone interested in instant photography can share their ideas and work. I've attempted this week to showcase work from a few of the Masters of early instant photography (Evans, Bourdin, Cosindas, 20x24 Polaroids) and touch on a couple of contemporary photographers who utilize instant film in their work (Lajoie, Miller). For my last post I would like to show an example of how I was influenced by another photographer's work. I was assigned to photograph the musician Jonathan Freilich and, being familiar with his complex, layered music, I tried to think of a way to get that across visually and thought of David Hockney's portraits using hundreds of Polaroids of a scene and combining them in such a way as to show multiple viewpoints within one constructed image. I found an interesting setting and worked with Jonathan to create enough images to be able to put together the final piece back at the studio. Looking back at the history of photography as well as our contemporaries for inspiration can lead to unexpected adventures.

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Exhibition Review: The Polaroid Project-At the Intersection of Art and Technology

Exhibition Review:

The Polaroid Project-At the Intersection of Art and Technology

Thom Bennett
Photographer, guest contributor

Since the demise of the original Polaroid Corporation in 2008 there has been a resurgence of interest in all things instant. The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology, on view at the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth until September 3, 2017, provides an expansive, immersive look at how important Polaroid instant photographs were for visual artists and showcases the creation of new technologies that encouraged the advancement of creative expressions that helped move photography beyond the traditional black & white darkroom-made image.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Abridor de Caminos
1997

“Why can’t I see the picture right now?”

~Valerie Land, Edwin Land’s daughter
Edwin Land and Daughter

The technology of instant photography, a mid-century marvel, emerged out of Edwin Land’s daughter’s simple question when he snapped her photo on vacation: “Why can’t I see the picture right now?” Already a successful inventor and businessman, Land devoted his creative energies to answering that question. As Polaroid technology advanced, Land began putting his cameras and film in the hands of artists to garner their feedback. In exchange, the artists provided Polaroid Corporation some finished works.

Ansel Adams
Man at House 131, (Frank Nambon)
Polaroid Type 55

Joyce Neimanas
SX-70 Collage
1981

The exhibit opens with a sampling of images in various Polaroid formats from artists such as Ansel Adams, Shelby Lee Adams, Bill Burke, Wendy Ewald, Marie Cosindas, Gisele Freund, and Dennis Hopper. Formats ranging from PolaPan roll film, Type 665, Type 55, Spectra, SX-70, Polacolor 8x10, and Polacolor 20x24 are all showcased. This room sets the tone for the remainder of the exhibit – an exhilarating sampling of prints by artists who have utilized Polaroid materials to share their visions and to push the boundaries of what defines photography. Cleverly, throughout the exhibit, there are SX-70 prints hanging on the wall with information on them that provide fascinating tidbits about Polaroid.

In addition to the variety of prints on the walls, the center of each exhibition room has a display case with samples of the technology that made Polaroid such a unique company. Under Land’s direction, the scientists and engineers at Polaroid were constantly experimenting, looking for new ways to make photography a more democratic medium. Ranging from the initial tests of instant film to engineer’s models for cameras, marketing materials, and actual cameras, these display boxes provide a look into the practical and experimental side of Polaroid and how technology ushered Land’s vision into fruition.

Charles Duke
Family Portrait on Lunar Surface, Apollo 16
1972

Conceptual model for folding camera

Model for SX-70

The Polaroid Project exhibition was created by The Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography in collaboration with The MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA, and the WestLicht Museum for Photography, Vienna where it will travel to next. After Vienna, it will be in Hamburg, Berlin, Montreal and, finally, Cambridge in late 2019. There is a catalogue available, published by the University of California Press, that is filled with images from the exhibition (and more) as well as in-depth essays about the intersection of art and technology that Polaroid provided.

Thom Bennett is a New Orleans-based commercial photographer; his day job is as staff photographer at M.S. Rau Antiques. He has been using the same SX-70 since buying it new in 1979 and still wishes he had used it more than he did.

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Ashley Gates Interview

Ashley Gates is a photographer working primarily in the instant medium. Using the search terms “refrigerator” and “Polaroid” on eBay in search of refrigerated film, she discovered a slew of old Polaroids of people in their kitchens standing by their refrigerator. The resulting book of vintage, found portraits is We Didn’t See Each Other After That.

From We Didn’t See Each Other After That, vintage Polaroid

I always find some great comfort in looking at old photographs, even if they’re of people that I don’t know. What is that quality for you?

On a purely existential level it’s fascinating to look at a found photograph and realize that I will never know any of the facts about it: the Who, What, Where, When. Sometimes you can learn the When if there’s a date written on the back, or the Where if there’s an obvious landmark. But of course it’s the Who that intrigues me the most. I love that there’s this galaxy of information floating around somewhere that I’ll never have access to; there’s something final and outer-space-like about that. Naturally we try to fill in the blanks and project our own narratives onto the picture. And regardless of whether I know the person in the photo or not, it can be an emotionally overwhelming experience for me – almost embarrassingly so.

Originally, the “refrigerator” images were intended to be instant and probably also ephemeral. Why are they still around, and why do we still care?

When I look at an old photo that has been discarded, or one that’s for sale at a flea market or online, my very first thought is, “How did it end up here?” It’s strange to know you’re seeing something in its afterlife. So, why are they still around? I don’t know. And I think we care precisely because of those unanswerable questions. We also care because we are holding evidence of a person’s life. And they are a frightening and beautiful illumination of the fact that so many people will never know who we are – while we’re alive, and especially after we’re gone.

From We Didn’t See Each Other After That, vintage Polaroid

From We Didn’t See Each Other After That, vintage Polaroid

You mention the “ordinary” in your book intro. What makes the ordinary so compelling sometimes but not others?

I think most of the ordinary snapshots we find at flea markets or elsewhere are compelling because time itself has made them extraordinary. If I take a snapshot today of my current bedroom and look at the photo tomorrow, it’s unlikely I will be moved in any meaningful way. But if I look at the photo in twenty years, who knows? Maybe I’d be moved to tears.

Both We Didn’t See Each Other After That and your new book Not Bad are collections based on images but also based on the words we use to describe those images. Can you talk about that?

Both collections were sourced using specific search terms online. The idea for first book was a complete accident and happened only because I had been searching eBay for refrigerated Polaroid film that had never been opened. Whenever I searched “polaroid” + “refrigerator” on eBay, I would often come across actual Polaroid photographs of people standing in their kitchens. So I bought several of them and arranged my favorites in a book.

The second book is more light-hearted and is technically a collection of screenshots, whereas the first book is a collection of physical photographs I purchased from eBay sellers and then scanned myself.

How did your new book come about?

I had been noticing for a while that “Not bad” was a popular caption on sunset photos that were posted across social media. I was amused by this caption because it’s one of detachment, of playing it cool. It’s almost a collective refusal to admit that something is beautiful. Or maybe it’s just a sly acknowledgement that sunset photos are ubiquitous and unoriginal. (I take them all the time, and I say take them all you want.) But once I started seeing this caption over and over again, I began searching for “sunset” + “not bad” and taking screenshots. I ultimately only used Twitter screenshots because they were the easiest to search for. It’s more difficult to find images on Instagram because their search tool doesn’t allow for multiple hashtags.

When I decided to arrange the screenshots in a book, I only searched dates ranging from November 9 to January 20 – the day Trump was elected and the Inauguration – because it’s a reminder that the sun will probably still come up tomorrow, even if on some days it may not feel like it.

Ashley Gates, Bon Ton Cafe

Tech specs: For your own instant work, what camera/film do you prefer to shoot.

I have a variety of instant film cameras, including the SX-70, Spectra, and a Fuji Instax, but by far my favorite instant camera to use is a Polaroid Land Camera. I have the 250 and 230 models. I prefer Land Cameras because using the peel-apart pack film (vs. the popular “shake it” polaroids we all love) feels even more like magic to me. My absolute favorite film to use with the Land Camera is the black and white Fuji FP-3000B, which is now discontinued. The level of detail it can pick up is astonishing.

With Polaroid becoming scarcer and scarcer, what are you transitioning to? 

I still have a lot of discontinued instant film stored in my fridge, and I’ve been trying to save it for more coherent projects or special trips. I recently shot a few packs of the Fuji pack film in Paris, and I love some of the images.

I haven’t developed a strong connection to the new Impossible Project instant film yet. I’ve had mixed results, but I’m going to keep trying. I’m perpetually thankful that they are dedicated to preserving the medium.

Ashley Gates, Brooklyn Bridge

Why instant photography?

Each photo is irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind, and I love the finality of that. It forces me to slow down. It is also a physical object, a kind of talisman. I love shooting other kinds of film, and I also enjoy shooting digitally and with my phone, but instant photography is a unique experience. There is no saturating or leveling or adjusting or filtering at all– there’s just a singular, tangible artifact.


What’s your next project?

I’d like to make a book of my own instant photographs at some point, but I’m in no rush to do it. That could happen next year, or in twenty years.

Ashley Gates

Time Capsule

Image via j on Flickr

I found this little gem, a blogpost from 2009 written by Seth that serves as a nice time capsule and also maybe the original seed of PPP. This is from 9 years ago and there’s still Polaroid film available. I believe this is pre-Impossible Project. So maybe there’s hope for the peel-apart fans now that Fuji has discontinued both the BW and Color FP films. If the history below is any lesson, then at least those films should still be circulating around for quite a while.

I’ve removed most of the links because they just didn’t work anymore and/or they crashed my browser. But if you want, here’s the original post.

As photogs and artists continue to “mourn” the loss of polaroid film, I thought I’d share some places that are keeping the faith. First, there is polanoid.net. A user generated site based in Europe that posts all kinds of polaroid albums and goodies. There are projects and open galleries to participate in; lots of fun. They also used to sell film, but that is now being handled by POLAPREMIUM.

Polapremium is a polaroid “affiliate.” They scour the globe for all types of polaroid film and cameras. Each item is for sale (with no substantial markup) and there is a countdown of availability.

Save Polaroid is an online petition, tin cup soapbox site that has the latest and greatest news/rumors about the fate of polaroid film and patents. Go, sign up and maybe someone will pick up where polaroid left off.

Like Fujifilm, who is releasing the INSTAX system here in the USA finally. Buy ’em at ebay, lomo, or soon at B&H photo.

Last, but not least, POLAROID and their Zink licensed POGO camera. A digital instant printer that has wireless capabilities and will print a 2″ x 3″ image from computers, cell phones and digital cameras. No transfers or manipulations, but it beats the preview on the back of a digital camera anyway.

Instant Cameras

 

Here is my current instant camera collection clockwise from top left:

Polaroid SX-70  It’s hard to believe these are so expensive now.

Polaroid Impulse  That yellow version at the link is awesome.

Polaroid Big Shot  The Big Shot was a rescue of sorts. The shutter didn’t work and the only way I could find to get to it was removing the large plastic flash diffuser that sits in front. Of course, it broke. And I’m fresh out of flash cubes anyway, but I found that the Fuji BW 3000 film works fine without it in daylight.

Lomo’Instant  This is my go-to lately since it shoots the highly accessible Fuji Instax Mini.

Instax Experiment

 

Failed experiment. #process #abstract #instantphotography #fuji #instaxwide

A post shared by Instant Gratification (@packpeelpour) on

Sometimes I like a good experiment. I posted this image on our PPP Instagram a while back, and while the results are kinda cool, I was really going for images. The idea was to load the Fuji Instax film into an old box camera, expose, and then in a darkroom remove the film and manually process with a brayer. It didn’t really work. Has anyone else tried processing this film outside of a camera, or more importantly, had it work? If so, drop us a line via email.