Legendary artist Joyce Tenneson recounts her look back at the Polaroid 20×24 images she created from the late 80’s through the early 2000’s. Exploring her archive once again has revealed images not chosen at the time of creation but that now have special meaning to her after this passage of time. These images will be collected in a new book and in an exhibit at Dowling Walsh Gallery at 365 Main Street, Rockland, Maine in July of 2016. John Reuter, who worked with Joyce to produce the images on the 20×24 camera interviews her for this intimate look at the “Unseen Polaroids”.
The 20×24 Studio announced this week that it will be ending production operations at the end of 2017. The company has been operating with film stock purchased in 2009 from Polaroid Corporation as it exited the film business. Executive Director John Reuter, who began working for Polaroid in 1978 stated that “our original business plan was for five years with the inventory purchased and for a variety of reasons we have not worked through the material. Instant film will not last forever and despite storing the film stock in cold storage and mixing the chemical reagent only as needed the studio projects that they can maintain the quality for two more years.”
“Our hope now is that we can work on some great projects with many of our legacy clients as well as new artists who have yet to experience the ultimate in instant analog image making,” says Reuter. The Polaroid 20×24 camera stands apart from all other large format experiences because it delivers an instant finished photograph. The artist is able to react to the subject matter in a manner unlike any other photographic experience. Digital technology may rival it in resolution and instant playback but it cannot match the experience of having the final complete artwork on the wall in ninety seconds for all to see.
The team of John Reuter, Nafis Azad and Ted McLelland has worked together for nearly ten years to provide access to this venerable technology. Together the three of them are working to produce the finished product that over a dozen people once accomplished at Polaroid. Azad and Reuter are also the film crew, operating cameras and lighting in New York, Miami and on location anywhere in the US.
In addition there are cameras in San Francisco and Dusseldorf, Germany. To learn more about renting one of these cameras while the film lasts contact the 20×24 Studio at email@example.com.
In 1987 Polaroid sent John Reuter and the 20×24 camera to Miami to work with renowned multi-media artist Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg had used photography extensively as collage material in his own paintings but was not known as a photographer. Rauschenberg had many ideas for location shoot images and at a pre-shoot dinner he described to Reuter what kind of situations he would like to put the camera in. Reuter would diplomatically counter with the physical restrictions and limitations of the 235 pound camera in outdoor location scenarios. After the fourth or fifth qualification from Reuter, Rauschenberg proclaimed in exasperation “why, it sounds like this camera is made out of string and cardboard!” ” Not quite”, Reuter replied and the next few days the camera travelled the streets of Miami capturing the grit and strange beauty as only Rauschenberg could see it. As they were working Reuter described a film he did not bring to Miami as it was not requested. That film was Polapan 400, a Type 52 equivalent that required a print coater and so was not suitable for outdoor location work. Reuter told Rauschenberg how this film had to have the coater painted on with a foam paint brush or the silver would bleach away. Rauschenberg immediately got the idea to partially apply coater to the image and allow the bleaching process to alter the image. They would meet again in the New York studio in 1988 and Rauschenberg brought many of his favorite black and white images to re-photograph. They decided to make some single panel enlargements and some much bigger multi panel enlargements. Rauschenberg applied the coater solution to the images in the studio in a unique Rauschenbergian way. The images were sent to his studio in Captiva, Florida and subjected to all of the elements Rauschenberg could throw at them, sun, brushes, bleach, and high pressure water. At the end of the process the images were mounted on steel panels. These images were shown recently at an exhibit at Pace MacGill gallery in New York and can be seen in a book on Rauschenberg’s art by Phaidon.
From May of 2013 through December Chuck Close has been photographing the Hollywood elite for a special Vanity Fair issue. Chuck Close describes his working method with the Polaroid 20×24 Camera, which he has used since 1977.
In 2013 artist Jeff Enlow approached the 20×24 Studio with the idea to expand his project “Parallelograms” to the 20×24 format. Jeff had been working for some time in 4×5 format and dreamed of scaling it up to the pinnacle of the large format instant experience. After a half day test session to be sure it would work Jeff embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to fund further shooting sessions. This was the first Kickstarter we know of to underwrite a 20×24 project and the response was enthusiastic. With the Kickstarter proceeds Jeff was able to fund several more sessions, completing his vision for the Parallelograms series with a flourish.
Behind the scenes photos by Bryan Derballa.
Jeff writes of his experiences with the 20×24:
I first discovered the 20×24 as a young student flipping through an American Photo Magazine. There was a small feature on the camera at Sundance. I remember being amazed by the size and weight of the camera. I always loved instant film but this was something else all together. At that time in my life using the 20×24 camera was well beyond my means or skill level. I stored the idea in the back of my mind till I had a project that called for the camera.
When I first conceived of Parallelograms, central to the project was that the images had to feel physical. I wanted to make an image that felt more like making a painting. There is a certain draw to seeing an original one of a kind painting in a museum or gallery that I felt is lacking in photography. Shooting on instant film became the bridge between those two mediums.
Visually, Parallelograms is a study of the topography of the human body. Multiple exposures allow the eye to wander in and out of the intersecting and diverging hills and valleys of the human figure. The unexpected shapes that are revealed in the merging of the two exposures is a wholly new creation—a sacred third entity—that exists in no other plane but on that single instant film sheet.
I start with a general sketch of an image in my head and first shoot it on 4×5 Fuji pack film. I collaborate with the model and decide the basic structure and flow I am looking for. From there, there are lots of micro adjustments like “drop your chin down, pull this arm back, hide that piece of hair;” I shoot one exposure, then we reset and do it all again. I mark on the ground glass the outline of the first image; so that when we shoot the second image I can try and guide it to flow well. I can steer the image in the direction I want, but the final print has a gestalt that is beyond omniscience.
There is a bit of translation that happens between shooting on the 4×5 and the 20×24. Using a medium as big as the 20×24 I had to rethink my relationship with both the model and the camera. I couldn’t just show up and reshoot my existing 4×5 images. I have a greater level of flexibility in the smaller 4×5 camera. I can push the camera into different positions and angles that aren’t possible when you are working with a camera a 1000 times larger.
Despite having this massive impedance between the model and myself I was able to achieve an intimacy on the 20x24s that I hadn’t reached before. The intense detail captured transforms the photos into truly rich character studies. It takes a lot of bravery for a model to stand nude in front of the camera. There is little you can hide from a 20×24 Polaroid, every freckle, blemish, and hair is exposed and enlarged.
Using the 20×24 forced me to dramatically slow down. Because of the size and complexity of the camera, along with the rarity and cost of film I only shot 10 – 12 images in a day. This makes little room for error, but also makes for an interesting and nuanced edit of the images. Additional versions of the same image are presented next to one another to highlight the subtle shifts that happen while shooting.
Working with the 20×24 Polaroid creates a craftsmanship to each image that elevates the photo beyond just the culmination of pigments in emulsion. Like brushstrokes on a canvas, subtle details reveal the hidden history of each image. The temperature and humidity in the room, the age of the film and camera, the motion of how the emulsion is pulled—all these elements combine to make a final image that has a visual language and personality unique to itself.