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Matinee: 'Cambridge Faces: Elsa Dorfman' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

26 December 2020

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 285th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Cambridge Faces: Elsa Dorfman.

This 6:18 video is an interview with Elsa Dorman at her Cambridge studio in 2010. Dorfman passed away this summer at the age of 83.

She was an unpretentious soul who knew a lot of literary celebrities and happened to fall in love with a 200 lb., 20x24 Polaroid camera, which she favored for portraits of those celebrities.

Her method was to take two and let the sitter pick. She'd keep the other one for herself.

She liked to catch her subjects at an unguarded moment. Which is just how this clip starts.

Then she quickly gives us her biography. Her dislike of New York, teaching school and living at home in Cambridge. Her introduction to photography. Her affection for those big Polaroids.

She remembers her first encounter with the camera. January 8, 1980. She took a portrait of the beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

And then it's back to work for her portrait session. "Don't move much. Did you move much?" she asks. "Now don't look at me, look at the lens," she continues.

Except that the Polaroid film had disappeared by then so she couldn't really continue very long. She had eight boxes of film left, she reveals.

She peels the film apart to reveal the print. "Here it is," she says. Followed by a big hug from her subject, Lloyd.

We don't know if she ran out of film before she ran out of days but it's a reminder that we only have so many shots in us and we would be lucky to use them as well as Dorfman used hers.


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