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Matinee: Big Polaroids With Tennyson, Storer, McCann, Tunney Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 May 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 135th in our series of Saturday matinees today: a look at making big Polaroids with Joyce Tennyson, Tracy Storer, John McCann and Peter Tunney.

It's funny how this works. If we were teaching photography, we'd have to come up with a syllabus within the curriculum to impress enough wild and crazy students to spend a few weeks listening to us.

But we're not teaching so much as exploring.

And after being inspired by Charlie Cramer talking about the evolution of printing technology last week, we ended up showing some Polapans in yesterday's Friday Slide Show. So what could be more natural than a melding of the two for our matinee today, which explores making large Polaroid prints.

Let's start with Joyce Tennyson who describes what the experience felt like for her:

"The minute I started using the Polaroid camera, it felt like all of my inner dreams and memories and associations just came out and came together in a miraculous way," she remembers.

She's not the only one who gets that feeling.

Tracy Storer echoes that when he says, right off the bat, that the thing about the 20x24 camera is that it captures ideas:

But "it's like photographing with a refrigerator," Storer admits, giving us a lot of information about actually using the 240 lb. camera on wheels (he'll rent it to you).

You can, for example, wheel it around but it isn't much of an action camera. It's more a macro experience, shooting at life size and bigger with very shallow depth of field. And all vertical compositions because the roll film comes out the bottom.

About a minute in, he addresses the question that lingered through an afternoon of research on this subject. "What do you mean, you can still get film for that?"

"Yeah," he insists. "We've got film for it."

And the story of that film is pretty interesting in its own right, going back to Edwin Land himself, who solved a tricky production problem. Here's that story, told by John McCann, who was in on it himself:

Like any film, Polaroid film requires development. So making a big Polaroid isn't something that happens with just the press of a shutter button. It requires a bit of patience.

"It's a process," Storer says. "I make hand-made photographs."

Peter Tunney's giant one-of-a-kind prints aren't just hand-made so much as birthed, he says. People applaud when the image is revealed:

It is pretty funny when he compares working with that big camera to the digital experience using a smartphone.

And, as a multimedia guy, he has something to say about what a photograph is and isn't, too. Which is a topic Steve McCurry has stirred up this week.

But size apart, the thing about each of these big Polaroids is that there's only one of each image. And if you're a collector, you like to hear that.

Especially in the digital age.

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