In the age of instant image gratification it’s for granted that our fully formed images can circulate the world within seconds of the shutter releasing. It is easy to forget the era of Edwin Land and his invention of Polaroid that recorded intimate chemical instants; although initially equally as disposable as today’s mass digital photography the Polaroid format quickly achieved a cult status; even when the parent company closed production the format refused to die. Along with other 20th century methods of media communication such as vinyl records the re-growth of analogue instant photography especially with the instagram snapchat generation is supported by The Impossible Project’s re-engineered Polaroid process and Fuji’s small but perfectly formed Instax.
It seems apposite that The Photographers Gallery in London should show a selection of some 250 Polaroid images shot by German film director and photographer Wim Wenders titled Instant Stories. Subject matter ranges all genres; whatever drew Wenders gaze from the 1960s into the ‘80s. So captivated by the medium Wenders the featured the then new SX70 camera in his 1974 film Alice in the Cities. Wenders used Polaroid as a visual notebook when movie making for previewing shots and testing ideas and is open about the influence this had on his moving image work. The show provides a glimpse of America during the first iteration of a true original who was present in the day; Wenders comments “A real and singular thing that transferred a piece of the past into the future”. This instant wonderland of Wenders visions and imagination are untitled and invite the viewer to extend the story and personalise the engagement. The eye moves rapidly and in a concentrated way through each selection as if the mind is polarioding what it is receiving. Once assimilated the viewer returns to review in more depth and the connection is complete. It was fascinating to watch people’s gallery ritual, look, step back, and step in again. The profligacy of contemporary instant imaging does not invite an easy return, once released it is lost in a ubiquitous visual ocean eventually sinking to unseen depths buried under the next batch of SMS mediocrity. It is also something of a treat to see these small intense views of a life in an era were every show seems to be of giant proportions.
The medium had it’s own ritual, shutter release, the physicality of the pull-out or latterly the whir of the motor ejecting the print, followed by a period of expectation maybe with magic happening maybe in your armpit! “There was always a certain surprise involved and a heartbeat of suspense,” reminisces Wenders reminding us that we once had to work for instant images, the performance more engaging as photographic intent that any digital image making! To illustrate the theatrical element further one room loops a mesmerising film of Wenders laying on a pool table Polaroiding himself, a flash of light, the noise, the casual toss of the image to one side until the perpetrator is surrounded by his own image. Made in the heyday of he medium the film now seems a premonition of the profligate and narcissistic 21st century culture of the seflie. Something that could be expected from an auteur of Wenders standing. The show runs until February 2018 and is recommended.