The Polaroid: Let’s start putting down sticks
‘a city of beautiful nonsense’ is a wonderful meandering through the changing cityscape of Cork by the artist Ciara Rodgers. The exhibition is an assemblage of charcoal drawings, building materials, found objects and polaroid photography.
At the opening in Studio 12, Film Director and Film and Visual Culture Lecturer at MTU Crawford College of Art & Design, Padraig Trehy, on his peregrination through the exhibition, considered the polaroid as a political statement–a refusal to engage with the capitalist reverence for progress. Progress: the quest that obliterates now unfashionable technologies in the oh-so-important march towards… towards… well, let’s just see how things turn out shall we? Trehy contends that newer photographic devices merely give the illusion of freeing up more time. As you snap and snap with ease to your heart’s content, you ultimately have your time consumed as you become removed from the present moment. In the gluttony of snap-snap-snaps you become passive and inconsiderate of your lens, your body and your surroundings. The results? A saturation of images to edit and wade through. Polaroid photography asks you to be precious with your materials, with your medium, with your actions, with your time. To slow down and think about what it is you want to frame–what it is you’re trying to capture, what it is you’re trying to say.
Slow down, make slower, say no, refuse, pause, look around, give yourself a minute, an hour, a day, a month, a year, give yourself a life, allow yourself a life.
It is this special relationship with time and space that calls the polaroid to me.
The polaroid is peculiar as it is held within a pronounced frame, or rather the frame is in fact integral to the polaroid. With its white borders resembling a white wall room, it is as if the medium itself is bestowing the scene with a portable white cube space. The recently deceased, Brian O’Doherty argued in his seminal text ‘Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space Part 1’(1976) that the white cube has the ability to ‘eliminate’ the spectator.1 The polaroid, however, seems to encourage interaction–hand held, pocket size–there is something bodily about our relationship to this medium. Throughout ‘a city of beautiful nonsense’, polaroids are scattered high on pillars and low on walls encouraging the viewer to crane, stoop and squat to experience this particular white cube space. A box of polaroids lie on the windowsill to be perused, thumbed and flicked through.
There is a lovely clunkiness to the mechanics of vintage Polaroid cameras. They are noisy and heavy to hold and there is a sense of magic as you wait for the chemicals to settle and reveal your image.2
Rodgers, herself, uses the medium to root her body in a space. Noisy and heavy the mechanisms of polaroid photography echo the realities of life itself. Heavy–life isn’t light like your iPhone. Life isn’t slim design. Life is fucking awkward–and sometimes its so heavy your hands give up and you have to take a break. SNAP.
Perhaps, psychologically there is something to creating a box for yourself in the world. A relief–this is how big I can get. This is the form I can play with. Here’s an edge for me to scratch my back against and purr like a feline–fiercely independent sure, but always looking for comfort. O’ Doherty noted that 19th century artists embraced the limits of the frame to create depth of field, while in the 20th century, photography emphasised edges in order to allude to an expansion beyond the frame.3 Perhaps the polaroid sits apart from conventional photography as its edges are defined not to expand beyond but to create a limit, an edge, a box, a pause. This razor sharp edge can be used to cut into the illusion of endless space and remind us of our form, our bodies. Scientists now believe space to be made of a finite amount of particles.4 We live inside something. We are shaking around in it right now. Like little embryos in a big old womb, or sprinkles enmeshed in a big ice cream sundae, we are all here in this fixed space and what does that mean?
It’s ok to give yourself limits, it’s ok to recognise what being human defines about your life. Things don’t always get better, faster or stronger and that’s actually not a scary thing–it’s no scary thing at all. Fear is necessary to sell you the lie. What is scary is the march towards some vague breadthless market of consumption.
So, rest your back on a wall! Put down your sticks.
1. Brian O’ Doherty, ‘Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space Part 1’, Art Forum, March 1976 <https://www.artforum.com/print/197603/inside-the-white-cube-notes-on-the-gallery-space-part-i-38508> [Accessed on 16 November 2022] (para. 6 of 32).
2. Ciara Rodgers, ‘Interview with Ciara Rodgers by Niamh Murphy’, The Paper, 11 December 2020 <https://thepapercork.com/2020/12/11/interview-with-ciara-rodgers-by-niamh-murphy/> (para. 7 of 17).
3. O’ Doherty, ibid (para. 11 of 32).
4. Carlo Rovelli, Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, trans. by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell (UK: Penguin Books, 2016) p. 150.
‘a city of beautiful nonsense’ runs until 26th of November at Studio 12, Backwater Artist Group, Cork City.