Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Past & Presence

Douglas Dubler created a historical and artistic project that was ideally suited to the unique qualities of the legendary Polaroid 20x24 camera

This Article Features Photo Zoom
And so you have the complete synthesis: the centuries-old classicism of ballet and the history of artistic representation of dance—Degas, Matisse—to ballet in photography—Eisenstaedt, and Cartier-Bresson, to Dubler himself. Meanwhile, the historic camera, that captures the immediacy of gesture and form with an unmatched clarity, while it slows down the process of capturing the image, challenges the eye of a master photographer like Dubler, demanding the utmost in meticulous preparation to capture the warmth, spirit and individual personality of 16-year-old Rachelle Di Stasio, poised on the brim of a spectacular dancing career.

See more of Douglas Dubler's work at douglasdubler3.com. Learn more about 20x24 Studio and the Polaroid 20x24 camera at www.20x24studio.com.

The Camera
Before digital changed the whole meaning of "instant photography," there was the Polaroid Land camera. First marketed in 1948, the camera used a self-developing film in a negative/positive sandwich-style form drawn through rollers that spread a chemical reactant through the sandwich. The film would be peeled apart to display a finished image.

In 1976, Edwin Land created a prototype for the giant-scale Polaroid 20x24 camera out of spare parts in his workshop. He designed the 235-pound colossus as a means of copying large, flat artwork and as a format for commercial and artistic work. Today, there are six of these cameras worldwide. The busiest of these belongs to John Reuter's 20x24 Studio in New York. With an eye to preserving the camera as a working instrument, Reuter made a deal with Polaroid to purchase the remaining film before Polaroid ceased its operations in 2004.

"We knew they were winding down," says Reuter, who worked for Polaroid at the time, "and so we put together the finances to get the film. We still have quite a bit of color film remaining. But the black-and-white is disappearing as we speak."

Reuter is currently involved in a research project to create new film for the camera.

Nafis Azad, the 20x24 Studio's Director of Photography, runs the camera, which is loaded with the negative/positive film and is focused from the back. Once an exposure is made, the film pack is pushed through rollers, which press the pods holding developing chemicals and spread these through the sandwich. The print is pulled out of the camera bottom and sliced off with a utility knife. Ninety seconds later, the negative/positive sandwich is peeled apart to reveal the final gigantic print. Images have a narrow depth of field and very sharp details.

Dubler's project used an 800mm Rodenstock and a Sinar shutter. "We put the shutter in front of the lens," says Reuter, "and this was very workable."

Recently, Reuter closed down his 20x24 Studio. "Virtually all the projects were on location," he says. "The model of a full-time studio just wasn't working."

There's a space at Lincoln Center, but most of the time, the camera travels to shoots in a lift-gate truck. Reuter is quite aware of his role as a steward of the remaining film stock, only mixing chemicals as they're needed, and keeping negatives in cold storage, positives in climate-controlled environments.

"Polaroid film was never meant to last very long," he says. "So we're taking good care of what we have."


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