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Visual Arts

Instant Film in the Age of Instagram

The Polaroid Project, a new exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum, explores "the intersection of art and technology."
By Devon Yarbrough |
We are gathered in front of a blown-up Polaroid picture of Hilary Clinton, taken in 1999 by Chuck Close. Clinton looks hopeful and relaxed, removed from the controversy that surrounds her today. She looks genuine.

“That’s the thing about Polaroids,” says William Ewing, curator of The Polaroid Project, the photography exhibition that opened Saturday at the Amon Carter Museum. “These stand for authenticity.”

Polaroid cameras are in some ways obsolete, killed by digital camera phones and Instagram. The company stopped production of its instant film almost a decade ago. However, the impact of Polaroid isn’t lost. With their instant spontaneity and their affordability, Polaroid cameras were at their height in the latter part of the 20th century, leaving a trail of visuals to represent an era.

Thus The Polaroid Project, an exhibition dedicated to Polaroid photographs in varying sizes and formats, and to decades of creativity, intimacy, and realness.

The show, which runs through Sept. 3 in its U.S. premiere, is broken up into eight sections: Observations, Interrogations, Configurations, Theaters, Arrangements, Impressions, Expressions, and Contemplations. It features about 100 photographers, including David Hockney, Lucas Samaras, and William Wegman. The photos range in size from the standard Polaroid format of 3.1-by-3.1 inches, to a 20-by-24 inches.

Many of the photos are snippets, observations or samples likely intended to be shared with only a few others. Ewing says that some of the photographers didn’t think these photos would ever be displayed at all, not to mention featured in a full-scale exhibition focused on the medium.

Shooting with Polaroid was never an exact science, and because of the nature of the format, there was little time to perfect the art of Polaroid photography. There was no formula.

“I feel that one essential aspect of this whole project is the sense of joyful experimentation,” Ewing says.

From a four-part series of a dog’s legs to a red-polished fingernail holding a Polaroid picture of a woman, to a person’s back tattoos, the exhibit is filled with images that share a sense of humanity.

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