I've always enjoyed instant-print photography. As a young photobug, I found playing around with a Polaroid a fun way to take a break from "serious" photography.
Well, Polaroid is all grown up, now. It is serious photography, and to prove it, the world's most innovative photo-equipment manufacturer is holding its fourth annual employee photo exhibit - an unusual roundup of 139 Polaroid instant-print images made by 94 employees. The exhibit is unusual not only because of the medium, but because few of the exhibitors, according to Polaroid, are professional photographers. But I was amazed at the high-quality photographs by secretaries, administrator, engineers, vice presidents, supervisors and scientists - people whose professions demand little or no knowledge of photography.
Is it just a fluke? I don't think so. I think these exhibitors - like you and me - have something to say. They have artistic tendencies, feelings, emotions to relate. What they may not have is the stamina or desire, such as it is, to persist at learning to operate a professional-quality camera, or to process their own photos or afford the kind of custom lab prices that often accompany reparing a group of photographs for exhibition.
Polaroid cameras make all that absolete. They make it possible for photographers to concentrate on subject, form, composition, and forget about the more technical aspects of the art. I'm not advocating that all photographers chuck their knowledge of the technical aspects of photography and start shooting Polaroid cameras exclusively. But it seems to me there's something to be said for a medium that turns out professional-quality artwork with little or no formal or prolonged training.
What kinds of work are represented in the exhibit? The 139 images range from simple portraits, still lifes, landscapes and abstracts to complex experimental photographs.
Four fascinating experimental shots are actually multi-media collages. By opening the back of a piece of SX-70 film (carefully, we can only presume, to prevent smearing around all those caustic chemicals) and cutting away portions of the image, one employee added his own drawing and painting, as well as cutouts from previously printed material, to an SX-70 photo. This type of mixed-media presentation is refreshingly new and, thus, intriguing.
Another employee's experimental techniques involved using a multiple exposure of a hand, which turns out looking as if the subject were viewed in two mirrors facing each other. More traditional images included an SX-70 shot, "Concorde," taken from inside a jetliner at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. "Helter Skelter" is an interpretation of a Spanish sidewalk cafe under the noonday sun. The bright colors and geometric design of the chairs create an eye-catching and memorable pattern.
Understandably, most of the exhibition prints were taken with Polaroid's SX-70 system. The Alpha cameras are probably the most effective tools ever designed for shooting instant prints. Not only do they deliver a print that develops in minutes before the impatient photographer's eyes; they are also true SLR cameras, allowing through-the-lens viewing - just like the most expensive Nikons, Canons and other 35-mm cameras - so the photographer can see what's happening right up until the shutter is snapped.
The exhibit, entitled "Reflections," is to tour major Polariod locations in Massachusetts and several of the company's out-of-state distribution centers. If it comes near you, be sure to see it. If it's been a while since you've worked with an instant-print camera, you'll be amazed and posiibly even awed at some of the images included.