group show 50
Progressive Nostalgia or A New Kind of Death
We approached this call for Polaroid photographs made since Instagram's 2010 launch with equal parts optimism, equal parts Forrest Gump. Over the past 5 years, we'd seen a few photographers making Polaroids in particularly innovative ways, but too many, as writer Peter Buse described in the introduction to his book The Camera Does Not Rest, were couched in old references to a dying medium. Two photographers whose work inspired the call were Aneta Bartos, for her Pictorialist views of men masturbating in hotel rooms, and William Miller for his 2011 series Ruined Polaroids. Both bodies of work leant a surprising sense of hopefulness to photography's material demise. And while referencing the past, both Bartos and Miller use this old medium to help us see things differently.
We invited both photographers to include work in this show, and looked for submissions that, like Miller and Bartos, might use this expiring medium in progressive ways. The resulting selections from 31 artists fall somewhere in between. Nostalgia certainly lingers as a ghost-elephant in the room, but the images remain contemporary, often using this seemingly antiquated material as a way to evolve old narratives. Serrah Russell, for example, uses a Polaroid to re-photograph images from old National Geographic magazines, turning body parts into abstract landscapes, challenging viewers to understand their grand historical narratives with a fleeting gaze. In contrast, Timothy Briner has removed the camera entirely, placing a flashlight directly onto the surface of Polaroid film and waiting to see the magic.
While the future of Polaroid is shaky at best, these artists’ commitment to complicating the dialog that surrounds it encourages us to see it with a contemporary focus – not as a dying art form, but rather as an exciting and tactile counterpoint to our largely digital world.