#2 8x10 Instant Exposures
New York, USA
Jennifer’s connection with instant materials began at an internship with the 20x24 Polaroid Studio in NYC in 1998. The studio housed and rented out one of the five 20x24 Cameras in the world, and it was here that large-format cameras became her love, her language, and her way of seeing.
It began with love and determination, then it became a profession, and then it began to feel like a curse! Now she has again come back around to viewing it with love and curiosity. Instant films are finicky and respond to a million variables; how the films were stored, the temperature and humidity on any given day, how clean the camera is, the hand motions you use to process the film, etc. By keeping all of these things in check, there is some control, but there is always a chance it will come out as a garbled, chemical mess. These days we spend a lot of time on our computers and phones viewing images very quickly.
Subtle images and intricate stories can often get lost in this way of viewing where in-your-face, super-saturated images can grab your attention first. When a photograph becomes a tangible object, whether you’re holding it, looking at it in a book or on the wall, there is a connection to one’s own body in relation to that image and its scale. One can feel the texture of the paper, or see the grain of the image, or the smudge of chemistry, that makes you consider not just what the picture is of but how it came to be.
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When and where were you born?
I was born in 1977, in Cleveland, Ohio, the fourth of five children of a physicist and a fisherman. While these were not exactly my parents’ professions when I was born, it was still where their hearts and passions lay, and was absolutely part of how I came to be who I am. I grew up in Cleveland and the nearby lakes, was raised in a working-class home, and learned to use my hands for work at a young age, pulling fiber optic cables through office ceilings for my dad. Also in that momentous year: The rings of Uranus are discovered. Optical fiber is first used to carry live telephone traffic. The first oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline reaches Valdez, Alaska. The Atari 2600 game system is released. The TCP/IP test succeeds, connecting 3 ARPANET nodes, in what eventually becomes the Internet protocol.
Where is your life centered at the moment? Where is your work centered at the moment?
Both are centered in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, between the 3rd and 4th floors of an 1880’s brownstone. These days, I tend to stay closer to home. For many years prior I explored, adventured, traveled and rambled. There were six long meanderings through the American South with an instant camera the size of a refrigerator. There was a move to Paris to start an artist-support program which morphed into a new existence and career as a director of photography in wintry Berlin. Life sometimes has its own plans, however, as I was reminded when a brief return visit to my beloved in Brooklyn turned into a permanent return from Berlin. One car racing through a red light + two pedestrians in a crosswalk = good timing, bad location or vice versa. Seven months later, I’ve accepted that concussion-related vertigo and migraines have a way of changing your grazing habits and your routine! It is with this explanation that I share, for better or worse, that everything for the moment is centered around home! [Grumbles the stir-crazy documentary photographer.]
How old is your handcraft?
My handcraft utilizes instant materials first made by Polaroid, a company started by Edwin Land forty years before I was born, in 1937.The first instant films debuted in the late 1940’s with the first Land Camera Model 95. These films were Black and White, peel apart-type film. In 1963 the first instant color film was produced, also a peel apart material. In 1972 the sx-70 camera and the first integral, square format films went on the market. Large format films: 8x10, 20x24 and 40x80, my specialty, were all released in the late 1970’s, as was I! A few Instant Film Basics: Instant film is a multi-layered film sandwich that can be developed immediately after shooting, making the image viewable almost as soon as it is processed. Once an instant sheet of film has been exposed in a camera, it is processed through a set of rollers, spreading a layer of chemical reagent between the layers of film to activate the development process. The negative layer contains dyes [color film] or silvers [black-and-white film]. During development, the dyes/silvers move in layered & timed migrations up from the negative to a receiving layer which they bind to, thus magically creating the instant image. Peel apart film is a type of instant film, where the image-receiving layer is a white paper with a mordent layer that attracts the dyes/silvers to it. After a set development time, one must peel apart the negative from the positive layer to stop the processing and reveal the finished image. Intergal films are similar in concept to peel apart film, but much more complex and layered with the film developing, stopping and fixing itself after processing. There is no peeling apart or chemical waste as the image sandwich stays together permanently to dry. Integral films are also different in that their receiving layer is a shiny see-through sheet, so once the dyes or silvers migrate to it, the image is viewed through this transparent layer.
How, when and where did your handcraft find you first?!
My memory of Polaroid started in the early 80’s, with my grandfather photographing our family and his friends on his Polaroid cameras. As a ten year old I easily comprehended his love for photographing women, who he photographed very simply in their everyday environments; his favorite waitress standing near his table, the pretty grocery store clerk at the counter, a neighbor in front of her house. His pride in the images was unmistakable when he would leaf through his stack of polaroid portraits with us. I even still have and use some of his cameras when I shoot, though I don’t often photograph my waitresses. My true connection with instant materials began at an internship with the 20x24 Polaroid Studio in NYC in 1998. The studio housed and rented out one of five 20x24 Cameras in the world, and it was here that large format cameras became my love, my language, and my way of seeing.
Is it Love? Profession? Faith? Determination? Curse?
It was love and determination, then it became profession, and then it felt like a curse! Now I have come back around again with love and curiosity.
Please tell us more about the history / origin of your handcraft.
Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, developed instant photography in response to the childlike, challenging question of his daughter as to why she couldn’t see his pictures while he was shooting with his 35mm camera. Once Polaroid was in full production of instant films, they marketed their film materials to a wonderful mix of people; To the everyday family man for shooting loved ones and events, to ultra-specific users in the real estate, medical and scientific fields, and to commercial photographers as a proofing film to view their shot before they switched to regular films. There was also a cult following of artists that Polaroid cultivated and supported, people who loved the materiality of the films & how they rendered the world; the color palettes, the malleability of the chemistry and alternative processes possible, the softness, the instantaneous way of working and viewing, the ‘magic’ moment of image emergence in less than two minutes, and the uniqueness of a one of kind print. My personal history led me through more than eight years at the 20x24 Polaroid Studio, learning all of the techniques of the medium and the ways of working with an amazing mix of instant artists including Mary Ellen Mark, David Levinthal, Chuck Close, Ellen Carey, Lyle Ashton Harris, William Wegman, Julian Schnabel, and Max rada dada to name a few. But as much as the studio work was educational, I was still a ‘field’ photographer interested in photojournalism and documentary work, who was trapped in a studio with highly specialized equipment and high powered flashes. Eventually I found a way to merge my interests and new insights from working at the studio, which started with an 8x10 camera and a pair of roller skates. I began my first large-format Polaroid photo project in 2005, when I documented Skateland, the nexus of my father’s newest passion - competitive roller skating. Skateland is a suburban Ohio roller rink in a sea of car dealerships and fast food joints, filled with a slew of passionate skaters, young and old, practicing dilligently for performances in national skating competitions. Your perspective on life and your parents changes once you’ve seen your father roller-dancing in a blue spandex tuxedo with rhinestones! My father generally preferred the traditional skating dances, generally waltzes and tangoes with a partner, but at Skateland there was also flea hopping and large groups of synchronized skaters, and my photographic series documented the simple and extraordinary everyday moments of these people that shared this surreal, fantastical but also serious and dedicated practicing time at the rink. Polaroid instant film was a perfect fit for the project, for a variety of reasons, but most intuitively it fit because the color palette of the film fit the color palette of the rink perfectly – Skateland did and still does feel like its colors and materials were plucked perfectly out of the 1970s, from the colored lights playing off the dicso ball to the buffet, and the 8x10 instant color film captured and accentuated that feeling perfectly.
Do you control or change your handcraft or does your handcraft control or change you?!
We take turns. I have worked professionally in the field of instant film, for Polaroid, the 20x24 Studio, and the Impossible Project, and part of my job was to know how the medium thinks and reacts to facilitate others in using it. Instant films are finicky and respond to a million variables; how the films were stored, the temperature and humidity that day, how clean the camera is, the hand motions you use to process the film, etc. By keeping all of these things in check, you have some control, but there is always a chance it may come out as a garbled chemical mess. Over time you learn to accept and occasionally embrace the tempermental nature of the medium, and maybe even marvel when it supplies you with the right kind of accident, the right light leak, chemical streak, or uneven spread, that makes your image that much more particular and tangible.
How did your craft develop in the course of the past decades or centuries?!
Polaroid Corporation had decades of growth and innovation but it seemed to lose it’s way in the late eighties and early nineties. The company lost its’ instant relevance with the start of one-hour photo printing shops and then later in the emergence of digital.Due to the steady decline of the company and its subsequent bankruptcies, as well as the extinction of necessary chemistry, by 2008 Polaroid had stopped production of all of its films. That same year a wild-eyed spider scientist named Florian Kaps decided to restart one of the old Polaroid factories in the Netherlands to produce instant film again, calling the mad venture the Impossible Project. It was mainly artists that supported Impossible from the beginning, and this endeavor echoed the desire and need for an experimental tangible product in the current digital age. Impossible has now been producing experimental integral films for over four years What many thought of as only a nostalgic medium, now has evolved into wild new directions with brand new 8x10 films debuting later this year. Another company, New55 is also campaigning to restart a new version of Polaroid’s positive /negative films this year. What this new interest and life for this 80 year-old process says to me is that the handmade image, the image we can hold and feel is still so important, even at a time when everyone is a photographer and has thousands of images buried on hard drives hidden away.
Which part of the production process do you like best and why?!
I love discovering the concept for a project and then throwing myself into shooting nonstop, sometimes for weeks at a time. I also love when that idea becomes an object, a print, a record, and something to be shared. When working on my 20x24 Polaroid project in the South, I processed the film in the middle of general stores and rodeos, then hung the polaroids on the side of my truck to view and dry, and share them with the subjects and anyone watching. These days, although it is a bit quieter and more private, I’m enjoying working with a special technique of separating the layers of instant film with heat into a final transparent image. While the making, transforming, and revealing is my favorite part of this process, seeing these surreal, transformed moments taped up on all the windows in the house is pretty spectacular too.
Which part of the production process is the most tricky one?!
With instant materials, you can’t trust that the film will always act the same way, and so for me it is tricky trying to find this internal balance of guiding the film to do what you want while trying to stay open to what it will become. This is especially true when you work with the film in challenging environments. For example, working in the South with the 20x24 camera in 100 degree weather I learned to accept the modulations in prints due to the heat and humidity and even learned to enjoy how these prints shared the trials & tribulations of pulling wet prints out of a camera in the middle of a dirty pig pen covered in flies. In the final images you see how I cut the print off the roll and might even see the legs of a fly stuck in the print.
How does it feel to transform digital pixels into real, tangible originals?!
This is a tough one, since I recognize the ease of digital and have beat myself up working with laborious original prints for 15 years. I certainly don’t live in a vaccum [well, maybe these days a partial vacuum!], and can appreciate the ease and technological advances of the digital revolution. The bottom line is that I am I am a picture maker. I use whatever tools are available to me to make the best pictures I can.
Please define „crazy“
Taking a 20x24 camera on the road in the South during Summer months with no plan and not enough bug spray or whiskey.
Are you left or right handed?
Right handed, but with cameras and printmaking process both your hands do pretty equal amounts of work together. A testament to this is that I need to wear a wrist-brace on my left wrist due to 8 years of over-use on the 20x24.
What is the most important tool for your work, other than your hands?!
The camera and lens that controls the recording of the image, the eyes that compose, and the instant film with characteristics that are suited to the subject.
What is the importance of handcrafts in current times?
We spend a lot of time on our computers and phones viewing images very quickly. Subtle images and intricate stories can often get lost in this way of viewing where in-your-face super saturated images can grab your attention first. When a photograph becomes a tangible object, whether you’re holding it, looking at it in a book or on the wall, there is a connection to one’s own body in relation to that image and it’s scale. One can feel the texture of the paper, or see the grain of the image, or the smudge of chemistry that makes you consider not just what the picture is of but how it came to be.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?
Both. An artist who cares deeply about process.
What is your favorite smell? Your favorite touch? Your favorite taste ? Your favorite sound? Your favorite dream?
With my vertigo these days, the surface of walls; they place me and ground me. In general I am always touching things to get a feeling for their materiality, i.e. I am that person the guard yells at to NOT touch the art. But doesn’t everybody want to touch the art and truly engage with it?! I also never read manuals to learn how things work, I use intuition and touch and move every part until something works or I break it. I love worn objects that share a story or history in the way they feel. I adore some of my old, hand-me-down kitchen utensils; I have a melon baller that I rarely use that was handled so many times that I can feel the indentations of my grandmothers fingers in the wooden handle. Ah taste, my favorite sense, or at least tied with sight. This week’s favorites are grilled tomatoes and ramps, and a lemon almond olive oil cake. I assume it must be my eastern European background, but all of my siblings and I are obsessed with salted foods; pickles, & olives most notably. In our family there were rules about who could eat them and when, as a new jar would be devoured in seconds, juice and all. I have a long history with popcorn, preferably the unhealthy movie-theater kind, but I will eat it anytime anywhere. One of my first jobs was as the candystand girl at a local movie theatre, and besides eating it nonstop, we also learned to use popcorn as a booby trap in late-night hide & go seek in the empty theatre. My sense of smell has always been the weakest of my senses. I often have to actively make myself smell, funny enough since as a Trausch I have been granted a decent-sized schnoz. Currently my favorite sound is silence. Oh wait my ears are ringing. I do not often remember my dreams. One memory of a childhood dream has stayed with me though. It is based on a story from a book that I loved, but reimagined on a grander scale and with me in it. In the original story there is a child who asks how much string you would need to reach the moon. On the next page is the punch line - one giant ball of yarn, complemented with an image of the child sitting atop the ball of yarn reaching to the moon. In my dream there is a small ball of yarn that is bright pink, sitting on a suitcase in the corner. The room is my parents’ old bedroom, which had a busy-patterned wallpaper, covered in my dream in pink and purple “poofballs”, though maybe they were flowers?! The ball of pink yarn seems to be in competition with the busy wallpaper, and it starts expanding in the room very quickly. Its expansion is both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing, as it seems as though the yarn ball may crush me. I watch it overcome the room, the house, my neighborhood, my city, the state…. And then I am on top of the yarn, engulfed by the whiteness of the moon, and putting my hand toward it. I am thinking that the moon will be cold but it is actually warm. The sun and moon seem to have become the same thing. I had this dream when I was sick and being watched over in my parents’ room. It could have been more of feverish hallucination. It became a recurring dream that still comes up periodically.
What inspires you most?
Fresh and honest points of view. Hard work. Ambitious people. Discovering new places.
Who is your personal „handcraft jesus“ of all times?!
Julian Schnabel’s way of working with large format instant film taught me a lot. It was jarring to me at first that he didn’t care about the normal things photographers care about; what exactly is in the frame or whether the exposure is perfectly accurate. By using longer exposures he seemed to be more interested in obtaining the essence of what was unfolding in front of the camera rather than recording it in perfect crisp detail. I also love the humor and wit of Winogrand, the characters of Arbus, the dream-feel of Reversi, and the loose story-telling of Alec Soth [Oh wait, I think I may have just listed a bunch of photographers, whose credentials as handcrafts-people are dubious at best!]
What would you recommend to somebody who wants to start learning your handcraft? How should he/she start?
Instant materials are accessible, jump right in! There are tons of free tutorials and content online as well as workshops that can guide you through basic shooting and give you a starter on the unique & alternative processes possible. If you are interested in larger formats, this requires more commitment and budget to learn all of the specialized equipment and rules of thumb. Find a mentor or an internship, and once you have the basics, experiment wildly.
Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, developed instant photography in response to the childlike, challenging question of his daughter as to why she couldn’t see the pictures immediately after he shot them. The first instant films debuted in the late 1940s with the Land Camera Model 95. These films were black and white, peel apart-type film. In 1963 the first instant color film was produced, also a peel-apart-type film. In 1972 the SX-70 camera and the first integral, square-format films went on the market.
Once Polaroid’s instant film entered full production, they marketed their film materials to photographers and non-photographers alike: from the average joe shooting loved ones and family events, to ultra-specific users in the real estate, medical and scientific fields, to commercial photographers using the medium as a proofing film before taking the final shot.
There was also a cult following of artists that Polaroid cultivated and supported - people who loved the materiality of the films and how they rendered the world - the unique color palettes, the malleability of the chemistry and alternative processes possible, the soft detail, the instantaneous way of working, viewing, and reworking, the ‘magic’ moment of the image emerging in less than two minutes, and the uniqueness of a one-of-a-kind print.