January 10 – March 3, 2019
Reception January 17, 2019 7-8:30 PM
This exhibition has been curated by Barbara Hitchcock.
Polaroid Possibilities: SX-70 Constructions
As a young artist in 1975 I was given an SX-70 camera as a gift. I had grown up with Polaroid cameras in our house; my father was a quintessential Polaroid family photographer, shooting a pack or two at every holiday or event. From roll film to pack film that process left an indelible mark on my photographic sensibility I did not yet know I had. In 1975 I was a senior in art school at SUNY Geneseo, studying with Michael and Rosemary Teres, my two teachers who opened me up to experimental photographic techniques and combinations of photography and painting. The SX-70 was a novelty and I really did not know what to do with it. I photographed soap opera characters off of the TV screen and began to employ the surface manipulation technique that Lucas Samaras had used so effectively in his “Photo-Transformations” series from 1973.
In the fall of 1975 I entered the MA program at the University of Iowa to study with John Schulze. My work then was primarily experimental black and white processes from solarization to reticulation and composite printing. My influences were experimental photographers such as Man Ray, Todd Walker, Herbert Bayer and Jerry Uelsmann. Equally important were the influences of painters such as Rene Magritte, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon. At a studio shoot arranged by the students I brought the SX-70 camera in addition to my 35 mm equipment. A fellow grad student, Rick Valencenti also had an SX-70 camera and told me about a stripping technique he was using to take apart his images, remove some of the emulsion and replace it with paint or collage elements. That to me was a revelation and I quickly abandoned my surface manipulated SX-70s in favor of what I would refer to as “emulsion stripping”. In a short time, this became my primary means of image making. Having combined alternative process photographs with paint for several years prior it was a natural to replace the SX-70 removed sections with acrylic paint, ink drawing and collage elements. The true beauty of the process is that it was all done from behind, leaving the SX-70 frame intact and from the front it appeared as if it was a normal SX-70 photograph. For me this was part of the aesthetic, this perfect consumer photographic process generating these surrealist scenes as apparent instant moments. It fit well with my belief that photography was a mythic medium and that its verisimilitude was an illusion. – JR
Polaroid Possibilities: Polacolor Image Transfers
When SX-70 film was changed in the late 70s it rendered my techniques impossible and I needed to find a new medium that could replace that excitement and creative working experience. For a year I dabbled with my own invention of a hybrid film type, combining 4×5 Polacolor negative and SX-70 positive. It was such an obscure medium that people did not know what they were. I moved on to Polacolor Image Transfer for a number of reasons, the primary one was the desire to work on paper as well accessing the larger scales that the film offered. I had worked on paper in many of my drawing and painting classes in college so was really comfortable adding color and marks to the transferred photographic image. In the later years of reworking the SX-70s and the 4×5 hybrids I began to use an airbrush to apply the paint inside the frame. I carried this over to the 8×10 Polacolor transfers I made in 1981 and it was my preferred way to apply paint for several years. The earliest 8x10s, such as “Sympathy” shows the airbrush off as the gouache partly obscures the background to bring the photographic image out of context. All of the early series was shot live with an 8×10 Deardorf camera. Despite the beauty of the image quality from the large negative I was more interested in the fact that it was on paper and soon sought out different ways to capture that image. I began to experiment with video as a source image, which was a precursor to working with digital input in the early 90s.
By 1983 I was creating image transfers with the 20×24 camera even though controlling a floppy negative that large was difficult. The dyes did not always make it perfectly on the paper and it took me several years to figure out that this could be a good thing if I only adopted a more painterly approach to the reworking process. From 1987 through the early 90s the 20×24 transfers were my exclusive method of working. There were two main series, first the Androgyne from 1987 and 1988 and then the Spirit of Pere La Chaise series depicting the statuary from the famous cemetery in Paris. As this second series progressed the reworking technique morphed from paint to the use of pastel and dry pigment, rendering the final image with fresco like surfaces. In the early 90s I was invited to photograph at the building that would become the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. With abandoned spaces from the late years of the 19th Century they became great backdrops for me to combine digitally with figures from my own collection of 19th Century tintypes and cabinet cards. These were produced in both 8×10 format as well as 20×24 and the treatment was very different. The 8x10s were lightly colored and enhanced while the 20x24s employed the more painterly look of the pigment and pastel.
By the late 90s I began to use digital technology more thoroughly and while occasional single pieces were completed as late as 2001 I consider the body of work to have concluded in 1999. In 2017 I decided to create two new 4 panel pieces for an exhibit of the transfer work. It was the first time I returned to the process in 16 years.
John Reuter was born in Chicago and raised in California and New York. He attended undergraduate school at SUNY Geneseo and graduate school at the University of Iowa, receiving an MFA in 1978. By the end of 1978 he had taken a position at Polaroid as a research photographer and in 1980 moved over to be the main photographer in the 20×24 Studio. From 1980 and through the 1990s the 20×24 program became the cornerstone of the Polaroid Artist Support Program. The New York studio was a key part of that program and Reuter worked with artists William Wegman, Joyce Tenneson, Chuck Close, Mary Ellen Mark, David Levinthal, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellen Carey and many others.
Throughout those years Reuter strove to continue his own artistic pursuits despite the full time schedule of the studio. The SX-70 work, which deconstructed the film packet to introduce painted and collage elements was the first major body of work he created with Polaroid materials. Rendered obsolete by technical changes to the SX-70 film this work remains a favorite of the artist. Seeking a new format Reuter began working with Polacolor II peel-apart film in 1981 to create images with the “image transfer process”. This process allowed the dyes from the film negative to be printed on watercolor paper in lieu of the shiny and sharp Polacolor positive. This became a starting point for a reworking process that enhanced or transformed the image with materials such as retouching dyes, watercolor, pastel and dry pigment. Scale could now be part of the process as Reuter employed 8×10, 20×24 and multiple 20×24 panels to create works up to 40×50 inches.
By the late 90s Reuter began the transition to digital imaging and no longer made the final prints with Polaroid materials. He continued to run the 20×24 camera for other artists as it remained part of the soon to be bankrupt Polaroid Corporation. By 2008 he was able to work with Elsa Dorfman and her investor friend Dan Stern to purchase a significant amount of the 20×24 film inventory, camera and production equipment. The camera and original Polaroid film remain viable and are still available for artists and photographers to use.
In 2014 Reuter embarked on a documentary film project titled “Camera Ready: The Polaroid 20×24 Project. It chronicles the origins and history of the project with interviews with artists, writers, curators and some key people at Polaroid who made it possible to survive beyond the demise of the company itself.
Reuter remains the Director of the 20×24 Studio and is also an adjunct professor of photography at the Hartford Art School.
About the Curator, Barbara Hitchcock
Barbara Hitchcock, former Cultural Affairs director, joined Polaroid Corporation in the 1970s in a research and development capacity. In 1978 Hitchcock joined Polaroid’s international division publicity department where she frequently appeared as a Polaroid spokesperson on national and international television/radio broadcasts.
Since 1982, Hitchcock was responsible for the strategic marketing communications and program planning, development and execution of Polaroid’s cultural activities. She acquired fine art photographs for Polaroid, managed its multi-million dollar art collections and its traveling exhibitions. She has been the curator of numerous exhibitions and has authored essays for many publications, most recently Desire for Magic: Patrick Nagatani 1978 – 2008; Private Views: Barbara Crane; Victor Raphael: Travels and Wanderings; The Polaroid Book; Emerging Bodies: Nudes from the Polaroid Collection and The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology.
Hitchcock has served as a juror for several non-profit galleries, for ASMP of New England and for the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
In 2006, the Griffin Museum of Photography presented its Focus Award to Hitchcock for her critical contributions to the promotion of photography as a fine art. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to photography from the Photographic Resource Center in 2010.
Hitchcock received a BA in English from Skidmore College, a PDM certificate from Simmons Graduate School of Management, and honors in business administration and journalism at Boston College.
John Reuter is an artist. He makes photographs and videos, draws and paints, and yet he is perhaps most well-known as the individual behind the hands-on magic of the giant Polaroid 20×24 camera; a person who sets aside his own aesthetic and artistic practice in order to help his fellow artists realize on film what each envisions in his or her imagination. His creativity, technical abilities and generous spirit are gifts that he shares to insure their success.
When Reuter turns his energies to creating his own artwork, he often photographs cabinet cards, tintypes, antique paintings and similar items from his collection. As these images made with SX-70 films develop, he cuts, peels apart, pushes, scrapes, paints, and collages the film’s interior surfaces, transforming his subjects into newly conjured images with reconstructed narratives. These final SX-70 miniatures pay homage to the giants of Surrealism and Expressionism – Herbert Bayer, Max Ernst, Lucas Samaras and Moholy-Nagy, among others – the luminaries who influence Reuter’s unconventional artistry.
The landscape which has been classically portrayed for centuries in art — crosses from traditional perspectives to unexpected, dreamlike impressions when Reuter mixes digital infrared “film” with his idiosyncratic view of botanical gardens. Have we entered Alice’s Wonderland?
Using various formats of Polaroid Polacolor film, Reuter takes advantage of the exposed instant film’s characteristic transfer of dyes from the negative to watercolor paper that he substitutes for the film’s standard positive. The color dyes don’t always transfer completely, a flaw that Reuter seizes as an invitation to fashion what he sees in his mind’s eye. In Reuter’s hands, oil pastels, airbrushed acrylics and dry pigments facilitate the image’s metamorphosis from traditional photograph to fresco-like artifact. Consequently, straight photographs of family members, funerary statues, Renaissance maidens and religious figures are reimagined. Harkening back to the ideals of Romanticism, what was corporeal is no longer; it has become ethereal and transient, diaphanous and mutable.
“Shadows and Traces: The Photography of John Reuter” celebrates the artist’s innovative exploration of film technology, photography and painting coupled with his imaginative reinterpretation of people, places and things that have populated the real world. Reuter reinvents the past, stimulates our imagination, and encourages us to enjoy this flight into a familiar, yet somewhat unconventional, alternative universe.
Barbara P. Hitchcock
Independent Curator and former Curator, The Polaroid Collections