March 25, 2018

This New Polaroid Show Explores The Intimacy of Instant Film

Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn. Featured photo by Jeremy Stigter. All photos courtesy of Galerie &co119. 

Paris-based bookstore and gallery Galerie &co119 has been supporting Japanese photographers since it first opened in 2016. But with their new exhibition, Polaroid: Intimate Stories, the gallery explores the world of intimate instant analog images from an international cast of photographers, all of whom routinely use Polaroid cameras in their image-making.
 The exhibition features works by Japanese photographers Nobuyoshi Araki and Tokyo Rumando, as well as Dutch photographer Jeremy Stigter, Franco-British photographer Alex Marillat, and the American Tom Bianchi, who collectively explore a dynamic spectrum of intimacy, from the most ordinary to the erotic to the borderline fetishistic.

“I kind of compare a Polaroid to an icon that you can carry in your front pocket—a relic of some sort,” McGeachie says. “For certain of these photographers, that’s where the paradox of the precious and the banal comes in as well, because they’re one of a kind. For photographers that is quite important because they’re often working in editions, whilst the polaroid is a one-off, so it has a value that other photographs don’t.”

« Flower », 2006-2009, © Nobuyoshi Araki / Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

The gallery’s director, Jessica McGeachie, tells Polaroid Originals that the exhibition grew out of an initial curiosity to find the bridge between the Polaroid photos of Tokyo Rumando and Araki – whose photographs are well known by the gallery – together with a vision of several different contemporary international photographers.

“She was actually a model about 15 years ago who modeled for Nobuyoshi Araki,” says McGeachie. “We also did an exhibition in 2016 of Araki’s work, so we wanted to do a dialogue between these two particular photographers who deal with intimacy and autobiographical work. We also have the work of an Alex Marillat, who deals with the intimate approach of the Polaroid as well.”

“Then there is Tom Bianchi, an American photographer who uses the Polaroid as a witness of intimacy, as does Dutch photographer Jeremy Stigter, who sort of writes stories with Polaroid pictures,” she adds. “We’ve found an interesting link between these five different approaches to the intimate side of the Polaroid, and why they use it in this way.”

McGeachie notes that part of the impetus behind Polaroid: Intimate Stories is Expolaroid, a festival organized in Nantes, France that programs a month of instant photography, with 40 participating cities around the globe. For McGeachie and Galerie &co119, what unites the five photographers in Polaroid: Intimate Stories is their autobiographical quality—a lens through which they explore their respective private spheres.

“The erotic is sort of banal, to a certain degree, because it’s the private sphere, [and] we find this in all of the works” McGeachie explains. “In Araki, it’s a language that is always autobiographical, and with all of the photographers. It’s the same thing with Tom Bianchi: even though he’s actually not in his work, he’s documenting his microcosm that existed at the time. So his photo of a pair of shoes is almost erotic.”

Tom Bianchi, Untitled, 060, Fire Island Pines - Polaroids 1975-1983

In these photographers’ polaroid photos, McGeachie sees a kind of paradox. One where images originally are seen only by a close group of participants convey precious and intimate moments, yet are unveiled before the public gaze.

“These [are] moments that we don’t often share, but at the same time they have that triviality because they are that personal diary that certain photographers have that exist outside of their larger works,” says McGeachie. “They’re personal icons, to a degree, that doesn’t have the same value as a silver gelatin print.”

For Polaroid: Intimate Stories, Rumando delivers what McGeachie calls an “instinctive body of work.” Galerie &co119 presents the Polaroid photographs in their numbered sleeves, taped to the wall as a personal archive. Alex Marillat, on the other hand, specifically designed plexiglass frames for his series of Polaroid photos; presented in a seemingly improvised fashion, there is a subtle dialogue amongst the images when viewed as a final arrangement. Tom Bianchi’s five polaroid photos are arranged in a tight but asymmetrical group and seem to imply an intimacy that captures undefined times and spaces.

“Jeremy works in diptychs and triptychs, so they’ve been framed this way with their stories,” says McGeachie. “Araki’s work is so prolific with so many symbols, and there are dialogues between images. His Polaroid work is kaleidoscopic fragments of a personal mythology. We decided not to put glass on the polaroid pictures, so they’re naked on the wall as a 6×6 grid, and there are dialogues created between the images, amongst horizontal and vertical lines and diagonals.”

« Pola eros », 2006-2009, © Nobuyoshi Araki / Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

Bianchi’s work, which is very pictorial but with deep color saturations, ranges from the late 1970s though the 80s. Stigter’s photos cover a period beginning in the 1980s and extending through the start of the 2000s. Araki, on the other hand, produced his polaroid photos from 2006 to 2009, and they feature his typically vibrant colors. Likewise, Rumando’s output is fairly recent, with McGeachie describing her colors as more muted or faded and weeping. Marillat’s polaroid pictures are, in a way, more extreme: the black and white images are quite delicate and sensitive depictions of men in intimate settings.

Despite the various aesthetic and autobiographical approaches, each photographers’ images share an existence as unique objects. And this is how Galerie &co119 would like them to be seen.

Alex Marillat, Paul#2, "boys" continued

Intimate Stories runs until May 12 at Galerie &co119 in Paris, France.