The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock
4 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post is also featured at www.cellophaneland.com
Remember that time, not so very long ago, when we all rushed down to the local Boots to drop in our films for printing? From this frustration of impatiently waiting anything from an hour (for those willing to stump up extra) to a week, to see the results of all the careful holiday snapping, lays the foundation of the Polaroid.
Back in 1943 Edwin Land, having been asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see her photo right away, immediately set to work. Within an hour he had conceived the technology and the story of instant photography had begun.
When the long and painstaking development process (no pun intended), documented in the book by prototypes, models and test images, had been completed, the result was not only scientifically groundbreaking but also heralded a new chapter of artistic expression. The New York Times proclaimed “There is nothing like this in the history of photography…”
Nowadays Instagram is the leading representative of the world of instant imagery. It should therefore not be surprising to know that prominent in the lobby of their California HQ sits a collection of Polaroid cameras, the most noteworthy being the 1977 OneStep featuring the rainbow logo appropriated by Instagram in its own design.
Land had in the seventies already predicted escalating use of cameras saying that they would soon be used ‘All day long…. like a telephone’, whilst probably not anticipating they would often be one and the same apparatus.
In this lay the recognition that the world, and people, had irrevocably changed; the barrier of subject and photographer had started to disappear in line with Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ and there was a continuous recording of lifes events and expansion of the ‘sharing’ experience. The almost instant sharing of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to be a natural development of what began with the Polaroid.
For the more artistic the new product was impressive but came with many built in limitations. Images were usually of limited size (save by using larger studio-bound cameras), fixed formats, limited camera adjustments. Laboratory colour and exposure manipulation were impossible.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these very particular restrictions it invited users to become ever more inventive. Artists like Lucas Samaras and Bruce Charlesworth manipulated or separated the emulsion or used repeated exposures. David Hockey used multiple images overlaid or arranged in grids to increase dimensions. Other painted, drew or scratched on and around the developed image.
Andy Warhol took all his portraits with a Polaroid and incessantly snapped his way around New York, Others like Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close often used it, whilst film makers, commercial, advertising and fashion photographers found the instant images essential for planning their shots.
It’s colour initially put off many art photographers, black and white being up to then the choice for ‘serious’ practitioners. This however was the era of ever more portable 35mm cameras and also of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and Polaroid were in a perfect position to tap in to the wider acceptance of their casual colour snap-shot aesthetics.
The Polaroid Project leads us through this story via a series of essays that look for example at Polaroid’s foundation and history, the development of the technology, artistic developments and its relation to social networks and the selfie. They are interspersed with an impressive array of widely varied imagery with plenty of ‘how on earth did they do that?’ moments.
The book is subtitled ‘At the intersection of Art and Technology’ and it is published to accompany a major touring exhibition, so it is not surprising to see that text and illustrations are geared towards the artistic. Perhaps a future show and accompanying volume can show what the public, as well as industry and business, created with the technology – but that’s yet another story.
There is a frequent lament here to the death of Polaroid, tied to the winding up of the company and closure of the factories, but, as with vinyl, this seems hugely premature. Instant film lives on in Fuji and Impossible, as does the use of Land’s cameras. The Polaroid Project itself shows us that interest in this technology and its uniquely ‘authentic’ aesthetic is increasing, whilst here at CELLOPHANELAND* we even have a couple of cameras of our own and Polaroids pinned on the wall. The king is dead – long live the king!
The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock, published by Thames & Hudson. To purchase (currently at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
A touring exhibition organised by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography opens at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas June 3 to 3 September 2017 then travels to Europe. fep-photo.org/exhibition/polaroid/
24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
19 November 2015 § Leave a comment
Pop art is very much alive and kicking. The World Goes Pop is currently at the Tate following on the heels of Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi Gallery, the BBC ran a recent series BBC Four Goes Pop, Allen Jones was at the Royal Academy and Richard Hamilton had a solo show at the Tate last year. That is not even to mention continuing interest in other artists like David Hockney on the edges of the movement.
Maybe it is because we are bored of the self referential world of post-modernism or perhaps there is a recognition of the present day relevance of the movement as we fight off an ever increasing barrage of media imagery. It could well be that Pop Art turns out to be modern art’s most influential movement, parodying all this mass media imagery whilst creating a startlingly prescient take on the world of today: the age of consumerism.
Within this apparent surge of interest the work of Derek Boshier has found a new lease of life. Recently featured on BBC4’s ‘What do artists do all day’ (a series that also featured Sir Peter Blake) he now has a solo show at Flowers Gallery which also coincides with the release of an excellent Thames & Hudson monograph (reviewed here).
The Rethink/ Re-entry exhibition features a fascinating range of rarely seen pieces, much from Boshier’s own collection whilst surveying the shifting emphasis of his art in the late sixties and early seventies. It re-examines his work of the period via the extraordinary variety of his practice – assemblages, collages, drawings, films, graphics and prints alongside more recent films and collages.
In thé ground floor gallery we see the sharp political edge of his work in works like The Stun (1979), a spoof tabloid front page bringing together the Queen and Irish Violence with an incisive wit. Meanwhile in Hi Consumers Don’t Forget Nothing Lasts Forever (1978) Boshier takes a wry shot at consumer culture.
Three perspex vitrines take a more conceptual angle and have a distinctly affinity with John Baldessari works of that time. King George V Avenue Cardiff from 1971 for example features a series of red circles and black columns lined in perspective along a found image of a broad street.
Boshier’s provocative and experimental approach was reflected within the gathering punk movement and also appreciated by David Bowie who commissioned him to work on LP sleeves, as well as stage set design. Featuring both on walls and vitrines are original drawings from Boshier’s collaborations with The Clash on graphics for the CLASH 2nd Songbook, and with Bowie for the 1979 album Lodger. He happily told Boshier ‘do what you like’ for the interior of the gatefold sleeve; Boshier obliged with a collage on mortality that Bowie loved.
His versatility continues with a neat Joseph Cornell style box from 1976, State of Mind, that makes a statement both on consumerism and politics combining a toiletry bottle and newspaper cutting featuring strikers.
Downstairs three series of photographed images are a different take on Hockney’s photo collages and Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. From his 1978 Routes series a sequential strip of images introduce time as an element as the camera’s lens takes a ‘stroll’ at three different locations.
In yet another media, film, Boshier’s 1973 Change is also showing, along with three more from 2014. In Change Boshier spliced sequences of still images from an installation at his Whitechapel Gallery retrospective of the same year. It remained unopened for 38 years, until its recent rediscovery provoked his desire to create new films using contemporary digital technologies.
Last but not least are four collaged works from 2014, each edged with his trademark broad black lines.
They look effortless and Boshier reminds us that his talent for drawing, eye for design as well as his desire to make works politically relevant are all still as strong as ever. He remains an important figure not only in the story of Pop Art but also in the contemporary art world.
For more information visit www.flowersgallery.com
Images courtesy of the artist, Flowers Gallery and CELLOPHANELAND*