For the past five years, I have been making portraits of noted photographers on the rare and mammoth format of 20×24 Polaroid. In each case, the photographer is holding one of their favorite or most iconic images. Neil Leifer’s image of Muhammad Ali standing over a knocked-out Sonny Liston, Harry Benson’s epic photo of The Beatles having a pillow fight and Steve McCurry’s famed portrait of the Afghan Girl from the cover of National Geographic to name a few. At the bottom of each Polaroid, the photographer has been asked to write out a short story about their image in their own penmanship. In cases, these words are as revealing about the photographer as the image itself. This project includes over 150 photographers from a variety of specialties and has taken me across The United States, shooting in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston.
The series contains numerous historical images and image makers, and has evolved to become a vehicle to preserve photographic history. While people are familiar with many of the images, including numerous Pulitzer Prize winning photographs in this project, most would otherwise never know the photographers who made them. My hope is that this project will become a way for future generations to not only appreciate the photography of our time, but the photographers as well. Cameras did not make these photographs, the photographers did. Without the dedication of photographers, like these passionate men and women, history would not have been recorded through their eyes and these moments they hold would not exist for our observation. Some of these photographers not only documented their generation but, their photographs have defined it.
This book is an incredible historic document, to order your copy go to www.mantoani.com
“On the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Monster Children found themselves two blocks from Ground Zero. In a photography studio with a 6-Foot tall By 4-Foot wide Polaroid Camera. In the search for something unique for The Monster Children Photo Annual,
of course we had to choose the most expensive of all the ideas. We put the call out to the vast Australian contingency in town for various occasions; Fashion Week a Surf Contest, Movie Premieres and a few that now call the city home. As well we also talked Julian Casablancas to spend his afternoon with us, twelve hours later and at $200 a Shot, the budget was well and truly blown. However what we had produced was both the realisation of a shoot we had wanted to do for years and the process an educational experience.” Chris Searl
All photos ©Chris Searl 2011
Chris on using the camera –
I’d been eyeing off the 20×24 for sometime. So much so, I’d even tried to ship it down to Australia for a project. So when the opportunity to finally shoot in the NY Studios came up, I jumped on it. For me, whenever I saw the images in print or online were always amazing, but it’s not until your actually hands on and involved in the process that it really takes you back to enjoying the Art of Photography. I grew up on the tail end of film and the crossover to digital, so to go back and have to actually think about how you want someone to stand and visualize the final image was so refreshing. I almost wanted to throw my digital cameras out the 3rd floor studio windows. The people I shot were a bit of a mix really. Whether they were surfers, models, musicians or assistants they were all relevant to the youth culture I’m surrounded by I guess. But essentially I just wanted to use the camera on friends that were available that day.
Here Chris talks with Polaroid guru and 20×24 Holdings Executive Director John Reuter about all the intricacies of Polaroid, the technology and who’s stepped in front of the 20×24 Camera.
Using the 20×24 recently was such an amazing way to shoot and really took me back to enjoying the art of photography. Can we first start by asking you to give us a brief explanation of the cameras history?
The Polaroid 20×24 Studio had its genesis at the height of the Polaroid Corporation’s reputation as a cutting edge company creating exciting consumer and professional instant photographic products. Edwin Land, the founder ofPolaroid was still very active in the company’s research and development. Riding high on the success of the SX-70 product line, Land and his group turned their attention to the traditional peel apart ﬁlm that professional photographers used. In the marketplace, a 4×5 inch was the largest ﬁlm sold, but that was about to change. Polaroid embarked on a program to make the ﬁlm available to professionals using 8×10 inch view cameras as well as some very specialized larger cameras that Polaroid itself would produce. In the push to create the 8×10 Instant processing system, Dr. Land directed his engineers to push further and called for the creation of a prototype format of 20x24inches. In addition to the 20×24 unit, theresearch group also produced a 40×80 inch camera. This successful reception of large format Polaroid ﬁlm led to a project to create multiple 20×24 cameras in 1977 and 1978. The research group headed by John McCann built five general purpose 20×24 cameras as well as several others designed for scientific and military use. Polaroid embarked on a program to bring this technology to photographers and artists, allowing access to Polaroid staffed studios in Cambridge and Boston, MA. In exchange for use of the cameras and ﬁlm, these artists donated a portion of their production to the Polaroid Collection. These artists included Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg.
That’s some incredible history and so amazing that the cameras are still in operation today.Do you know what happened to the 40×80 Inch camera?
The 40×80, created and owned by Polaroid since 1978 was later sold to artist Gregory Colbert, who used it to make large scale image transfers. Artists such as Chuck Close still used it until Colbert dismantled it in 2008. There is no longer any Polaroid ﬁlm for it.
For people that aren’t familiar with the operation and mechanics of the camera can you give us an insight into how the camera works and produces such a large format Polaroid ?
It is remarkably similar to any peel apart process. The negative gathers the light on silver crystals and transfers the image information directly (BW) or through dye developers (colour) that migrate to the positive material once activated by the reagent, which activates the silver or dye developers present in the negative and begins the diffusion transfer process. In 20×24 the processing machinery is contained in the back of the camera. with a pair of motor driven 22- inch rollers. The ﬁlm is in roll form and each individual exposure is cut off as it exits the processing rollers, setting up the camera for the next exposure.
Has the film always been made by Polaroid? And when they announced they were ceasing production on Polaroid film, how did that effect the operation?
The film has always been made by Polaroid. All of the stock they manufactured was always large, 44 inches for the positive and 60 inches for the negative. The trick was picking Out the cleanest and best performing sections of a
given base roll and then optimizing a reagent for the selected cut. We knew as early as 2004 that Polaroid would be exiting the ﬁlm business and planned accordingly. Initially it led to increased business, despite our assurances that we were not going away. And how many 20×24 cameras that you know of are alive and working right now? There are six working all in one” cameras, the ﬁve original production models and one hybrid, based or) an early prototype and a new front end. There are also over a dozen ﬁeld cameras with removable cassettes made by the Wisner Company. Unfortunately, they were not well designed or manufactured, and all but one are not in use today. 20×24 Holdings have commissioned Mammoth Camera in California to build 2 new units, which we expect to be completed by the end of the year.
How did you come to work with the 20×24 camera – it wasn’t a planned out career path right? More something that you fell in to? I was an artist who used Polaroid ﬁlm for my work in graduate school at the University of Iowa in the late 70’s. Upon receiving my Master of Fine Arts degree, I expected to teach on the university level. When that did not happen, I interviewed at Polaroid for 2 jobs, one a research studio and the other the 20×24 studio, which was just starting up in the fall of 1978. I was actually not interested in the 20×24, I much preferred the research photography position and in fact accepted that, even though I was offered both jobs. After a year a half, the position became open again and this time I accepted.
Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Julian Schnabel have previously used the 20x 24 Polaroid Camera for creative projects. Can you share an insight in to working with such artists?
I was present when Andy Warhol was photographed; I would not characterize his session as “working” with the camera. I adored Robert Rauschenberg and my time with him was very special, although he was distant from the actual production. Julian Schnabel was perhaps the most impressive, fearless in his use of the machine, going against all expected use of the medium. It is always a privilege to work with such accomplished artists, and you feel pride that you can bring the most of the experience of the camera to take advantage of their vision.
Are we right in saying that the highest price paid for a Polaroid was of Andy Warhol for $254K?
I guess there’s plenty of interest and intrigue surrounding Warhol. Honestly. I was not a fan then. I felt it was a superficial session, it only lasted a half hour. My opinion of Warhol changed greatly when I visited the Warhol museum in 1997. I did not regard him as a serious artist until I saw his early work.
Can you give us an insight into the shoots you were present on with him?
I really felt that he was barely there, he was incredibly guarded, a prisoner of his fame.
Lady Gaga, Presidents, ﬁlm stars…there is a long list of identities who have posed for the camera. Who else has found themselves in front of the lens of the 20×24 with you?
My favourites: Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton, David Byrne. Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock. Spike Lee, Ringo Starr. Paul Simon, John Malkovich, Jodie Foster, Susan Sontag. Al Gore. Sting, Danny DeVito. Dalai Lama, Bill Bradley, just to name a few.
And what about photographers – who are some photographers that have used the 20×24 over the years?
Again, some of my favourites: Tim Burton, Robert Wilson. Chuck Close, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Wegman, David Levinthal, Timothy Greenﬁeld- Sanders , and Joyce Tennseon.
Where are the more adventurous places the 20×24 camera has found itself?
Death Valley, the swamps of Hilton Head,South Carolina. Hotel lobbies in old Miami Beach and the forests and lakes of Maine.
And what’s one of the more outrageous things you’ve witnessed being shot?
You know I cannot tell the truth about that.
If you could have one 20×24 Polaroid on your wall from over the years which would It be?
I have several, images of my children. Hands down.
Interview reproduced with permission of Monster Children, may not be reused without permission.
In conjunction with the Wadsworth Atheneum’s exhibit of Patti Smith’s “Camera Solo” John Reuter
, long time Polaroid artist and Director of the 20×24 studio explores the spirit of creativity spawned by Polaroid materials in the 1960s and 70s. From Marie Consindas, Lucas Samaras, Rosamond Purcell, Robert Mapplethorpe and others through to Patti Smith, Reuter explores what was so special about working with Polaroid materials that allowed non-photographers and photographers alike to broaden their creative horizons with this amazing medium.
This lecture is supported through the Photography Department at the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, in memory of M.I. Cake. October 22, 2011 2-4 pm
Wadswoth Atheneum Museum of Art
600 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103-2990
On July 6 2011, Dr. Florian Kaps
, founder and CMO of the Impossible Project
, is setting up Impossible Works a globally operated non profit organization with headquarters in Paris,honoring the French capital’s importance for photography. Further local establishments in NYCand Tokyo are under development. Valerie Hersleven, who previously worked as a photographer’s agent for many years, was established as director of Impossible Works.
Impossible Works is dedicated to the creation, support and presentation of analog instant photography made on Impossible instant films. Impossible Works will provide and explain these new generation instant films to selected photographers and partners, reconnecting established artists and promising photographers around the world with one of the most magic and unique analog photographic materials in order to pursue the basics of the former Polaroid Collection. Dr. Florian Kaps : “I’m pleased to delegate Valerie Hersleven with the direction of Impossible Works. With her international profile and professional knowledge of the creative community, I’m that she is the perfect choice to accompany the photographers into their projects based on Impossible films, cooperating with a steadily growing network of worldwide curators from all kind of genres.”
20×24 Polaroid Camera
For its artistic collaborations, Impossible Works will provide all kinds of vintage Polaroid cameras, amongst them one of the unique and rare Polaroid 20×24 cameras. The first 20×24 Polaroid camera was built in 1977 based on the design of Dr. Edwin Land
, founder of Polaroid. These cameras weigh over 200 kg, are made of wood, and produce large format instant film images (20 x 27 1/2 inch) of such quality, that even upon close inspection do not show any film grain. In 2011, only seven of these cameras still exist; five of them are still being used. Jan Hnizdo, an acknowledged photographer and former 20×24 camera operator for Polaroid made this unique camera available for Impossible Works.
Impossible Works will make this camera as well as the new generation of 20×24 Impossible integral film available to instant artists all over the world, continuing the former Polaroid Collection principles.
A photographer’s agent since 1997, starting in London and then moving to Paris, Valerie Hersleven has exercised her profession passionately. Representing the work of photographers in fashion and advertising, Valerie has always valued the entire range or creative work that opens up new territories. Valerie is the great granddaughter of the photographer Jacques Hersleven (1880-1967), whose work of 30.000 photographs is in the hands of the Royal Institute of Artistic Heritage Belgium www.kikirpa.be. “Having grown up surrounded by photographers, the world of photography is more than familiar and stimulating to me.”
Operating the 20×24 Polaroid Studio in Manhattan (Partner of Impossible Works) together with John Reuter
, Jennifer operated 8×10 Cameras and the 20×24 Camera for artists such as Chuck Close
, Mary Ellen Mark
, and Julian Schnabel
. When not pushing large cameras through America, Jennifer can be found lecturing and sharing her passion for all aspects of instant photography. For Impossible Works, Jennifer plays a key role in guiding photographers worldwide into the fascinating but challenging world of instant photography. With her extensive expertise and unique insight on this unique medium, Jennifer is able to guide artists towards the possibilities and yet to be discovered techniques of this miraculous format. Jennifer Trausch : “I am very pleased to be part of this new art project and hope to be a guiding tool to all artists using the 20×24 Polaroid Camera and all new, exciting Impossible film formats.”
20×24 Polaroid Camera
For its artistic collaborations, Impossible Works will provide all kinds of vintage Polaroid cameras, amongst them one of the unique and rare Polaroid 20×24 cameras. The first 20×24 Polaroid camera was built in 1977 based on the design of Dr. Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid. These cameras weigh over 200 kg, are made of wood, and produce large format instant film images (20 x 27 1/2 inch) of such quality, that even upon close inspection do not show any film grain. In 2011, only seven of these cameras still exist; five of them are still being used.
Jan Hnizdo, an acknowledged photographer and former 20×24 camera operator for Polaroid made this unique camera available for Impossible Works. Impossible Works will make this camera as well as the new generation of 20×24 Impossible integral film available to instant artists all over the world, continuing the former Polaroid Collection principles.
Impossible Works will make Impossible instant film materials available to photographers: the small format with the classic white frame, as well as large format films: 4×5 inch, 8×10 inch and 20×24 inch (supported by the 20×24 Holdings LLC in NYC). These new generation instant films are invented and manufactured by Impossible in the former Polaroid production plant in Enschede (NL).
Download the Impossible Press Release to learn more.