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Behind Closed Doors: Polaroid Pictures

Today’s post comes from Emily Kloppenburg, Vassar College class of 2011, who is working this summer as a Ford Scholar with Mary-Kay Lombino, The Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator. She shares what she has been working on while the museum is closed.

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975), Sign: ENJOY, 1973-74, Instant color print, Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975), Sign: ENJOY, 1973-74, Instant color print, Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This summer I am working with Mary-Kay Lombino compiling research for the upcoming exhibition, The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation. The exhibition will examine the relationship between the photographer and the technology they yield, and the ways in which they used instant photography as means of visual exploration. A wide spectrum of artists are being considered, including well-known artists such as Walker Evans, Lucas Samaras, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, as well as lesser-known and more contemporary players. Still in its preliminary stages, the exhibition will show at Vassar in the fall of 2012 and will feature works from both the Art Center’s permanent collection as well as other institutions.

I have been working with Mary-Kay on the project for about a month now, and already, I have learned an incredible amount. Mary-Kay and I discover new things everyday, and our perceptions and expectations for the show as a final project are continuously morphing.

About a week ago, Jerry Thompson, former student and good friend of Walker Evans, came to speak with us about Evans’s collection of Polaroids. Completed within the final year of his life, the photographer produced 2,400 instnat prints with his SX-70 Polaroid camera. Mr. Thompson elaborated on the artist’s delightful fascination with the technology and the way in which Walker used it to approach familiar themes, such as road signage and architecture shots, from closer and more intimate angles. He also illuminated how Evans used his SX-70 to experiment with new subjects, predominantly the human face, that are rarely found within his larger, more well-know body of work. Mr. Thompson characterized Walker’s Polaroid work as a reflection of his photographic vision and genius. In the words of Evans himself, the SX-70 “put all of the burden on the mind and the eye of the artist.” The picture that is produced represents an intimate collaboration between the photographer’s mind and the image-making machine, one that is free from any other forms of manipulation or process.

Beginning tomorrow, Mary-Kay and I will continue our research overseas in Switzerland, where we will visit the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland to explore their deposit of some 4,000 works from the International Polaroid Collection. More on this when we return!

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