Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn. Featured Artwork ‘Lucas Samaras – Photo-Transformation’ courtesy of the Nathalie Karg Gallery.
For fans of Polaroid, Nathalie Karg Gallery’s recent exhibition, Polaroid: The Disappearing, offered up a tantalizing collection of instant analog images. Indeed, those who enjoy Polaroid as a pop culture symbol and experimental artistic medium got a monumental dose of both. Works by major artists like Andy Warhol, William Wegman and Robert Mapplethorpe hung alongside Polaroid photographs by more underground artists, such as Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) and Lucas Samaras. And Karg’s kaleidoscopic survey also cut across the decades of instant analog photography, running from the 60s up until the present day.
“I always wanted to do a Polaroid show—I love the format,” says Karg. “I love the uniqueness, and how it changed from being quite intimate in the 60s, 70s and 80s, where it was even sexual and a forbidden example of intimacy, to today where it’s considered an artform or something like Instagram where artists take snapshots of beaches or everyday life, which I also love.”
Karg tells Polaroid Originals that the exhibition was a massive logistical undertaking. She quickly remembered some artists who had used the Polaroid format, like Warhol, Carlo Mollino and Sante D’Orazio. Warhol’s work also featured prominently in Polaroid: The Disappearing. “For Warhol, the Polaroid was meant to be a portrait before he did the silk-screen paintings, but then it became an entity of its own,” Karg says. “It’s a huge body of work if you think about it because every single portrait painted by Warhol is preceded by several Polaroid photos.”
Serendipitously, several images arrived from Invisible Exports, a gallery located across the street from Karg’s gallery space. Invisible Exports had also been thinking about an exhibition of Polaroid photographs, but instead loaned Karg images by Brian Buckley, Genesis P-Orridge and Brigid Berlin.
Karg also researched books on Polaroid artworks, and asked friends and acquaintances in the art world if they knew of any artists who had used the format. Once she selected the images for the show, Karg had to locate and get permission to use them. But all the effort proved fruitful, as Karg was able to get images by Dennis Hopper, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Andy Warhol superstar Brigid Berlin.
Karg also secured several photos taken by experimental artist Lucas Samaras, who is known for removing the mylar protective layer and altering the emulsion of early Polaroid film with either his fingers or a stylus. Samaras called this painterly body of work, which is abstract and often psychedelic, Transformations. “Lucas is really the father of Polaroid photography in a way, as far as being artistically manipulated,” says Karg. “He was essential for the show, and it was very hard to secure the four images we got, but they are sublime and fantastic.”
Images by Barbara Ess, known for using pinhole cameras for experimental works, also appeared in the show. Ess’s six Polaroid photographs also feature her typical pinhole effect, which focuses the viewer’s eye on things like an optical illusion drawing of a duck and bunny, or what looks like the body of an alligator, but is abstract enough to generate uncertainty.
Brian Buckley went even more leftfield in combining obscure photography methods with Polaroid film. He fused the photogram—camera-less exposure of light sensitive material—with Polaroid type 809 color film to create abstract geometric art. To generate the 8 x 10 images seen in the Nathalie Karg show, Buckley arranged glass filters on the surface of the 809 color film in complete darkness, then exposed it to light, which produced colorful circles in various patterns and arrangements.
Other notable Polaroid photographs featured in the show included Amanda Means’ colorful close-up images of light bulbs; Jim French’s vintage homoerotic photos of cowboys and sailors, taken in the late 60s; and Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s heavily staged and lit scenographies. But the sheer scope and variety of Polaroid: The Disappearing meant there was an era and style for everyone who was able to visit the gallery.
Find out about upcoming shows and exhibitions at the Nathalie Karg Gallery by visiting http://nathaliekarg.com
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