Everything Old is New Again
Take a look at this photo. It’s not my photo. I came across it yesterday and I kind of liked it.
It’s got that color saturation and green tinge that you see in a lot of these new square format apps for the iPhone and Android (my personal favorite is Hipstamatic).
Actually, I like this photo a lot. But I didn’t heart it on Instagram. I didn’t like it on Facebook. I didn’t re-Tweet it either.
Because this photo was found inside a frame and mounted to a wall at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.
This photo is part of their Walker Evans show.
This weekend, my photography group took a field trip to check out the exhibit. Going in, I knew very little about Walker Evans other than he had captured a lot of powerful black and white images from the Depression. I purposefully didn’t study up before my trip because I wanted to learn about the photographer through his photos.
Well. Knock me over. I was really, seriously and deeply educated by the time all was said and done.
First of all, Walker was a writer, and then moved into photography. He did both for most of his life. So take that you scallywags who say an artist should pick a medium and not dabble. Feh! Also, I really came to appreciate Walker’s sense of irony. You have to get up close and look around the frame of his photos to find it, but it’s always in there.
That said, the part of the exhibit that gave me the “holy crap!” moment of connection was at the very end when I saw the photos tucked away on the back wall.
It seems that in his early seventies, Walker Evans was left tired and uninspired and found himself unwilling or perhaps unable to create.
And then he got himself a Polaroid SX-70 camera and an unlimited supply of film.
“I bought that thing as a toy, and I took it as a kind of challenge,” Evans explained. “It was this gadget and I decided that I might be able to do something serious with it. So I got to work to try to prove that. I think I’ve done something with it.”
As I stood there looking at the photos, I was at first jealous. Jealous of that “unlimited supply” of Polaroid film. I am completely devoted to the Polaroid camera and used several different versions growing up and well into adulthood. I shot Polaroid until the film was no longer available.
Thanks to the Impossible Project, it’s still possible to buy Polaroid film, but at almost $24 a pack, that easy carefree snap-whatever-you-feel-like and just buy another pack mentality has to be reined in.
So I stood there feeling jealous about having all that free film on hand.
And then…my hands came up and framed either side of my whaaaat? face as I realized…
I have access to an instant camera and unlimited film. But in a different format. Sames tools, different age.
I have Hipstamatic on my iPhone. And Instagram. And a bunch of other toy camera apps.
All of these beautiful color saturated photos. They can still be made! I can still snap with reckless abandon! Oh dear god I have this gadget and I might actually be able to do something serious with it.
Oh my goodness. Oh. My. Goodness!
This realization left me dazed and confused and happy. So happy.
Top photo, “Untitled, 1974 Unique Polaroid” by Walker Evans and used here under Fair Use.
Quote from The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer.
Bottom photo, “Power” Copyright 2012 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right column of this page. Taken with Hipstamatic app for iPhone.