September 11, 2017

Celebrity Instants With Portroids

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.

Old Polaroids, like all photographs, are vessels of nostalgia. In this case, of the instant variety. But for photographer Rick DeMint, the Polaroid is something more: a way of establishing a connection with a subject, especially if they happen to be a celebrity. But DeMint doesn’t just take photos of celebrities—he also asks them to sign the Polaroid he’s taken. These portraits comprise the series, Portroids, which DeMint posts on his website. Collectively, they’re an oddly interesting amalgamation of street photography, autograph-seeking and paparazzi snapshots, though DeMint isn’t selling high resolution images to print magazines or sites like TMZ. As such, the portroid is sort of an art form unto itself, though perhaps actor David Hyde Pierce summed up DeMint’s project best when he said, “It’s bizarre what you’re doing”.

DeMint started out using a Spectra 1200FF camera after seeing a man in SoHo using a modern-looking Polaroid camera to shoot an artistic doorway. At the time, this scene reminded DeMint of his family’s old SX-70 photos, which stood out from the other images in photo albums. DeMint decided to use his 1200FF (he now uses a Spectra 2) to document his life on social media, showcasing himself alongside family, friends and his entertainment interests, which included celebrities. Because DeMint didn’t have an “in” to start a conversation with celebrities in New York, he used his Spectra camera as an ice-breaker.

DeMint tells Impossible that early portroids suffered from a parallax error, causing photos to be off-center and blurry. DeMint’s photographic eye also had yet to develop. DeMint’s style evolved when he purchased the Spectra 2 and gained a better sense of aesthetics, though he maintains roughly the same composition across the entire series.

Though DeMint often frames his portroids in a consistent way, he now pays attention to factors like light source, background details, film stock, weather conditions and his positioning in order to get the best possible image. And since he often has less than ten seconds to interact with a subject, typically a celebrity on the street, DeMint has to quickly analyze these elements and shoot.

“The first person I photographed was a friend of mine named Carl Tanner,” DeMint says. “I was mainly testing out the process so I’d be ready for my first celebrity portroids the next day: comedians Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain. I was and still am a huge fan of their comedy sketch group The State and their follow-up group Stella. A few days later I photographed author David Sedaris, so it was a pretty cool start to the project for me.”

Portroids wasn’t always so celebrity-heavy. Initially the portraits were of people DeMint knew, with some celebrity encounters sprinkled in. But, because Portroids was one photo per day, DeMint quickly ran out of people he knew, and the celebrity ratio increased. These portroids then started garnering attention, pushing traffic to DeMint’s site, so he started featuring them more prominently.

“I do still try to only photograph celebrities that I’m a fan of, as I want the project to be a reflection of my interests and a source for like-minded people to potentially discover someone they weren’t familiar with whose work they may enjoy,” says DeMint, who encounters the celebrities in a variety of locations. “Sometimes it will be as simple as a public appearance at a book signing, convention, theater stage door or press tour for a new project. Other times it is a pre-arranged opportunity, like a red carpet at a premiere or a film festival, or a backstage by invite from the venue or performers.”

Recently, DeMint partnered with WIP Artists for the Broadway Project, which focused on the people of New York. Shooting over the course of one day—October 19, 2016—they walked the length of Manhattan from Inwood at 221st Street down to Battery Park, traversing approximately 13.6 miles and meeting many characters along the way.

“It was a way to capture a feeling for the city and get a glimpse of the many amazing people and cultures present here,” DeMint says. “It was the most fulfilling experience to meet hundreds of New Yorkers and learn a little bit about them. During that day, we also ran into and photographed a few celebrities, including Rupert Jee (often featured on Late Night with David Letterman“) and Justice Smith, star of Netflix’s The Get Down. They, like all the other participants, were so cool and enthusiastic to take part in our project.”

All told, there are close to 3,500 portroids in existence. DeMint would like to eventually display them in some way that captures the considerable scope of the project.

“I think I’d like to have another gallery show, maybe a book as well,” DeMint says. “Right now I showcase them on various online sites, but the originals just sit in photo storage boxes in my apartment (with a few framed exceptions). There are close to 3,500 portroids at this point, so it would be cool if I could display them in one huge exhibit, just for the sheer enormity of it. That sounds fun to me.”

Polaroid photographs shot by Rick DeMint.

See more of his series on IG: @portroids