The altar of objecthood
Jumping to the other side of justice, I understand that the only type of photograph that cannot be mailed to a US prisoner is a Polaroid, for something could be hidden inside of it. It is this status of the Polaroid as an object that functions to substantiate the claim that whatever image it contains actually existed the instant that it was formed. This strength is tempered by the fact that the Polaroid photograph, like the photobooth strip, stringently resists Benjaminian mechanical reproduction. This results in a sort of space-time triangulation that occurs between a viewer, a Polaroid and the actual event it contains. Consider, for instance, a post I read online where a photographer recalled seeing Neil Armstrong step down onto the moon on his television screen and commemorated the moment by taking a Polaroid photograph of that TV screen. This specific Polaroid, which is still in his collection, triangulates a moment in history. Were you to hold it your hand, you could tell me the hour it came into existence with comfortable certainty. Greater still, you would know that the color dyes present in its encasement were not some detached “copy” but part of a chain of events, which could be traced back with extreme intimacy to the light that struck Neil Armstrong’s foot, illuminating it (sun-foot-camera feed-television screen-camera). The same cannot be as purely said for a paper print copied from a negative or even for a slide, whose development isn’t eternally wed to its exposure, as is the case with the Polaroid object.
Once we’ve separated these two processes, as in the work I described earlier, we no longer need to use a lens at all. We have this photosensitive object and we can treat it like any other. What’s more, the result will still be a Polaroid object, which will invariably carry all of these aforementioned connotations by sheer dint of its form. I’ve been deeply attracted to this arena and have enjoyed using it as a place to reevaluate the photographic potential of these objects. They are also positives, so when you expose them directly to, say, electricity, you see it in positive, as with “Static Fields”.
Or, as in “Lightning Bugs”, where I let fireflies dance on them, they record these traces in positive and life-sized since there has been no lens-induced enlargement.
Here, I am amazed by how inimitably sharp the details look in the records of various colored latex condoms after I’ve contact printed them onto Polaroids. The title for these images, “A short and sudden turning inside-out” refers to the orgasm-like manner in which the camera brings the images about.
In these last three, series involving direct exposures, what is particularly exciting for me is the idea that the method doesn’t just reveal the vast world of potential that exists within the instant of a Polaroid instant photograph, but also many of the hidden qualities inherent to the film itself, such as its grain or how it handles reciprocity. These factors would otherwise remain invisible because of how encapsulated the automated Polaroid photographic systems always are. By skipping the lens, we get straight to the surface.
In the annals of the history of Photographica, one of all time favorite anecdotes is this: Edwin Land took a photograph of his daughter on the beach with a negative in his camera; she asked if she could see it, he said no, she asked why. Thus Land begat the impetus for Polaroid, with an attitude of play and of investigation, interested in constantly testing the limits of photography by experimenting with all that it can do. That’s how it all began. And I’m not interested in eulogizing Polaroid; I’m just getting started.
Peter Miller, www.petermiller.info