The world of photography will turn a little more slowly when John Reuter shuts down his large Polaroid Camera shop. An article in today’s New York Times outlines what is and what will soon be. (Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/arts/design/champion-of-a-polaroid-behemoth-yields-to-the-digital-world.html )
My first experience with the Large Polaroid was in the late 1990s, Polaroid brought this massive camera to Seattle. I was asked, along with a few other photographers, if we’d care to explore its potential. After one frame, I was hooked.
Since that time I’ve enlisted its use as often as possible. The last time was during the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle, when I was privileged to work with the Dalai Lama and an array of international luminaries. John Reuter, who is the focus of the NY Times story, brought the camera out and we worked closely together for several days. John is a terrific person and great photographer in his own right.
In order to photograph the Dalai Lama and others, I took over the hotel suite adjacent to his turning it into a photography studio. The camera is very large, standing about 6 feet high and 8 feet long. We pulled out all the furniture from the bedroom to make space. Even so, there was barely enough breathing room for the camera, lights, backdrop, subject, John Reuter and me. As noted in the Times article, president Obama once had to leave his Secret Service contingent on the outside when this camera filled the room, in order to take such a special portrait.
And then there’s the film. The unexposed film comes on an apparent endless roll around two feet wide. It’s pulled from the back of the camera at around 30 inches to provide a final image of about 20”x24”. Imagine the size of a large bath towel and you have the size of these Polaroids.
Photographing with and being photographed by the camera is a spiritual experience. I rarely used more than two or three sheets of film per subject, and the images were always outstanding. Sitting in front of this camera inspires awe. For instance, I once used it for a family portrait, and the pre-teen/early teen children were marvelous to work with, showing emotions, deep thoughts, and humor, with beautiful results. A few months later, in a photo session with a standard 35mm camera, these same children were hellions. What a change from their earlier session – sitting before the behemoth camera earlier, in awe and respect – the magic of the huge camera.
I look back with fond remembrance on the time spent with the large Polaroid and its team. Knowing the difficulties of continuing his specialty studio, I was still very hopeful John would be able to manufacture the film and chemistry. I had hoped to bring it once more to Seattle and use it again. Now, sadly, that won’t happen.
Bon Voyage to John Reuter, his crew, and all the users. I feel fortunate to have experienced the magic of the Big Polaroid.