The technology to engineer an optical camera that could produce an instant physical photograph was developed by the Polaroid Corporation in 1972. ‘Polaroid’ has entered the American lexicon, similar to trademark brands such as‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’, as a generic word for do-it-yourself picture making via self-developing film. Marketing emphasized ease of use, but, implicitly, the unique selling point of the Polaroids camera was privacy.
In the age of 20th century chemical photography, mass image-making required exposed negative film to be developed and printed, and thus seen, by a professional developer. Instant photography changed the game, allowing for image-making away from prying eyes and creating a special bond between the photographer and their subject—often one-and-the-same.
Today we live in the digital age of the ‘selfie’, where image-making (and destruction) is almost unlimited. Our photographs can be intensely private and instantly disposable or they can be disseminated to millions via social media. Sometimes, they are both. The polaroid images in this exhibition, images that are personal, private, painterly, and mostly anonymous, become a window not only into a lost world of personal contemplation, but reveal contemporary insight into our own digital culture of public self-reflection.
For over two decades, Seattle-based Robert E. Jackson has been a serious collector of mass popular photography and photographic ephemera. Aspects of his important collection have been published and exhibited in both the National Gallery in D.C. and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as via gallery shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. This is the first museum exhibition of his collection in the Northwest and one of the first to feature the vernacular Polaroid.
Polaroids: Personal, Private, Painterly is curated by Robert E. Jackson and BAM’s chief curator, Benedict Heywood. It is the first in an ongoing exhibition series highlighting collectors and their collections.