The New Polaroid For The Old ManMonday, September 06, 2010
Our ability to produce media has outstripped our ability to consume it. The average photograph now gets looked at less than once simply because there is almost zero cost and effort to producing one.
David Carr, NY Times, September 5, 2010
To my delight and constant amazement, every day I read my hard copy (made from dead trees) NY Times there is something that makes me reflect on my own existence and helps me thrash out in my mind how the rapidly changing world is affecting and changing me.
Reading the above statement in a business article called, The Media Equation, made me think on a lazy and rainy Labor Day holiday on the recent events that are modifying my life and my wife’s so rapidly.
It was last September that a simple financial equation in fluid dynamics that if the water pouring into a tub, does so without a stopper, you will never fill the tub. In the same way I figured out that money entering into my studio in the form of paying work was not exceeding in the least the amount of money I was paying in rent. I shut down the leak and went home.
It took a while to go through the adjustment to the loss of my private photographic space. But as my work continued to diminish the closing justified itself even if I should have done so months before.
For reasons that escape me, the arts editor of the Georgia Straight, Janet Smith sent me an email requesting I accept the assignment of taking pictures for the fall arts preview issue of September 16.
Let me explain my amazement. When I look at myself in the mirror I see myself. When others look at me they must see an old coot. Why would the youngish arts editor of a still(somewhat) edgy publication contact an old man who is in a profession where youth and edginess will always trump boring and plodding consistency?
In past years I have taken the fall arts preview with crazy themes. A couple of years I asked every artist/actor/dancer to show up with something red and dear to them. The continuous attempt by the Straight to save money (perhaps a smart thing in a city where other print media is bleeding with red ink) has dictated that if there are two dancers, two artist/painters, two musicians, two standup comedians and two actors, that each pair be photographed together. This can be a problem.
Consider that yesterday, in my first batch I photographed the two 24-year-old actors, Amitai Marmorstein and Aslam Husain.
I was stressed out because I had no studio and I had asked the pair to show up in my home where I had set up a gray seamless in my living room. What would two young men, in a tight shot, be doing together and staring at the camera? What would be the justification besides the obvious one that these two actors had bee selected by Straight drama critic Colin Thomas?
I should not have worried thanks to the peculiar (for me) and wonderful (for me) elements of new methods of communication.
The actors and I fired constant emails. “What should I wear?” one would ask. “Should we bring props?” asked the other. I suggested that they try to get to know each other through email. When they arrived (Amitai, who was in Victoria arrived early and was waiting at the door when Rosemary and I got back after looking over a Malibu Maxx in Surrey) they were easy, pleasant and at tea (with German Swiss cheese and Argentine dulce de membrillo, proving that having a shoot at home can have a pleasant advantage) they found out that somehow they had met before.
I cannot reveal the nature of the photo here as editorial rules specifically prohibit I do so until the day of publication. But I can reveal that the photograph will be an arresting one.
I remember sometime in the early 80s when my Polaroid back arrived from New York. The Polaroid back enabled me to slap it on my 6x7cm Mamiya and take either b+w or colour prints before I used “real” film on assignments. Many years before the advent of the digital camera’s ability to show you the result right after I had depended (almost to the point of it being a crutch) on the Polaroid to tell me that my camera was working properly, that the exposure was more or less the correct one, that the camera was synching with my studio flash and most important it made many of my subjects relax. They knew after looking at the Polaroid what I was “doing” to them. Many of those Polaroid must be in their albums (at the very least on their refrigerator doors) as I made it a rule to give my Polaroids away.
As you can see here, my Polaroid back has been superseded by my iPhone even though the iPhone does not reveal exactly how light will affect my Mamiya’s Ektachrome of Kodak Plus-X Pan. But it does help, like the Polaroid to calm my subjects. They look at the picture on the iPhone and I may ask one of them (and I did) to take off a shirt or to move a hand here or there. They will do it, once they see what we are working on.
While I am still in the dark as to why Janet Smith would have contacted me I am most excited, now that I have one down and four more to go, that the 68-year-old man still has some surprises up his sleeve even if does entail using a living room studio!
Going back to the quote by David Carr, I, too, must resort to reducing the cost of producing a photograph. My venerable Polaroid back and its expensive film pack (still made) at around $38 for 10 pictures is now laid to rest. The expense of my iPhone tests? None. What will take the place of the gift Polaroid magnetized to a refrigerator? I will send my subjects a "fixed up" iPhone picture.