Peter Buse. The Polaroid as Image - Object. The Journal of Visual Culture. Vol. 9, No.2. 2010. Sage Publications. pp 189-207.
What sort of photo-object is a Polaroid print? Or, more importantly, what material social practices does it give rise to, what desiring networks do they participate in, and what unconscious investments animate them? This article examines two such practices. (p192)
On the first Buse writes:
In Polaroid photography, the material activity of making the image, the fact that it develops on the spot rather than later in a darkroom, is, as Trotman says, an event in itself. (p192)
This is a reference to Nat Tortman's now influential essay from 2002, The Life of the Party: The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera and Instant Film Photography (Afterimage 29(6), May/June: 10).
Of the second, Buse, after Edwards and Hart (2004) terms this ‘presentational form’:
... the tendency, found in both fine art and vernacular uses of Polaroid photography, to group large numbers of instant prints together in composite figures, or what will be called here ‘Polaroid mosaics’, to take into account the tile-like properties of the prints.
Of these two modes Buse goes on to ask:
Just as in the first practice the spectacle of producing the image equals or eclipses in importance the resultant image, so in the Polaroid mosaic, the print as combinatory object threatens to displace the print as individual image. How to explain this insistent surplus of object over image in instant photography? (p192)
The separation of object and image is difficult to perform, so bound up are these two seemingly distinct modes through the senses of touch and sight. Additionally - and especially with reference to the photograph - such responses are often related through notions of the emotional, typified by Camera Lucida. The importance then, resides in stressing a focus on the physicality of the photograph alone (a distinction highlighted during my viva).
Once this emotional frame work is relinquished, it is possible to attribute additional factors to the Polaroid as object, as I explore in my thesis: the durability of the integral Polaroid, and the use of the integral Polaroid(s) as a sculptural material. And there are, of course, other means of display that can be utilised to configure the Polaroid as object, as the image below, taken at the Centre for Contemporary Art (Preston) makes clear.
The use of the Polaroid in mosaics, and the degree to which this positions the Polaroid as object, is one I am not entirely confortable with. While such a means of display does integrate the object-ness of the medium, with its function as image, such distinctions do, I believe, remain opaque. While Hannah Villiger used the Polaroid as an intra negative to create larger prints, she often displayed her photographs in grids to engage with the photograph as sculpture, especially with reference to the relationship between the viewer and space in which the work is located. But, as I argue in my revised thesis (which I am still working on...), this does not treat the Polaroid as object quite enough; there is not, for me at least, the required degree of 'surplus'.
I am making these notes as I progress through the essay rather than writing a considered view of the paper as a whole, so as to preserve my first impressions and responses. Therefore, I am sure that the issue - and my current position - will become more complex in response to Buse's developing argument. The relationship between the 'event' and the Polaroid as object - which is quite intriguing, will also be explored in further posts.
I have mentioned the work of Peter Buse before, and his continuing explorations of Polaroid (not just integral) should be required reading for anyone interested in this specific medium, so I highly recommend seeking out his work.