Presenting Polaroids Part 7: Making A Portfolio Boxed Set

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

In this final episode of Presenting Polaroids I’m going to look at a hybrid approach that lies somewhere between an album and a framed print hung on a wall. A portfolio box is basically a set of matted prints stored in a presentation box. It’s an approach you might use for a set of curated prints that hang together thematically. Or they might be a collection outstanding Polaroids taken over a period of time. Unlike hanging a few framed prints on the wall—and let’s face it, finding a good amount of wall space can be difficult—showing matted prints in a box allows a viewer to sit down and browse an entire series of photos. And, compared to an album, viewing a set of SX-70 prints highlighted in a white mat conveys a sense of value that you, as the photographer, place on your images. And, if you were pursuing gallery shows, showing a boxed portfolio of your Polaroids set in clean white mats is an expression of your professionalism, that you are serious about your craft.          

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Presenting Polaroids Part 6: Framing the Image

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

Most publications displaying Polaroid SX-70 images will include its iconic white frame. After all it is an intrinsic part of the presentation, a self-contained frame that needs nothing more than to be held in the hand to be a complete presentation. 

However, as a photographer, my focus is on the image I want to make, not the white frame that makes an appearance after the film is ejected from the camera. When I look through the viewfinder of my folding SX-70 camera, I see only the image area, not the frame. Edwin Land was very specific in wanting nothing to interfere with the image seen through the viewfinder; the image was everything to Land. 

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Presenting Polaroids Part 5: On With The Show

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a short video tour of my recent photo exhibition, “From Our Windows: Polaroids by David Firman,” held at the Winnipeg Architectural Foundation (WAF) in Winnipeg, April-May 2022.

I hope you enjoy the show (of course) but the primary purpose of this video is show how I used the techniques described in my previous post and video, “Presenting Polaroids Part 4: Framing the Icon.”

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Presenting Polaroids Part 4: Framing the Icon

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

To my mind, there are two paths to framing Polaroid SX-70 prints. The first is to highlight the image, making it the focus of the framed print. This path will be considered in “Part 6: Framing The Image.” 

Today, I’ll delve into the second path: a celebration of the iconic form of the SX-70 photo, which includes not just the image area but the entire “frame” of the print as ejected from the camera. It’s an industrial design form that anyone, anywhere, can easily identify as a Polaroid. It is so embedded in our cultural psyche that it is still borrowed for countless advertising campaigns. Think of how rare that is.

The other feature of the SX-70 is its tactility. When it’s ejected from the camera, you grab it by the edges. Arguably, you can hold it while it develops. And 15 minutes later, you can pass it on to others to gaze upon the magic of an “instant” picture. There is a solidity to the object that feels good in the hand. It’s thicker, much thicker, than your average photo. And it seems to fit between the fingertips so naturally.

The first series I completed after being reintroduced to SX-70 photography in 2020 was “From Our Windows.” Right from the get-go, I was thinking about how I would eventually present these photos if I was to have a show someday.  I wanted to emphasize the images (of course) but also the iconic SX-70 form and the tactile, hand-holdable nature of an SX-70 photo.

It struck me that my SX-70 photos needed to float above the mount board and be held in place with finger-like mounting strips or corners, almost as if I’m holding the photo in my hand and saying to the viewer “Look at this!”

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Presenting Polaroids Part 3: The Grimm Truth About Albums

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

There are many options for storing SX-70s in albums. Polaroid makes them. There are crafty versions on Etsy and elsewhere. There’s the 3-ring binder approach using with PrintFile 44-8P print preserver sheets. All work and most are archival safe. 

I have a two issues with these types of albums. 

They all use some form of plastic sleeve to hold photos. Sure, they’re sold as ‘crystal clear’ plastic sleeves but pop in a Polaroid and all I see is the shiny dimensionality of my photos being sapped by the reflective and slightly cloudy plastic sleeves. 

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Presenting Polaroids Part 2: Conservation Tactics

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

Before getting into the meat of presentation techniques, I thought I should discuss the conservation materials used in the upcoming posts and videos. Coming from a black and white gelatine silver print background, proper processing, storage and display to maximize the longevity of my prints has always been a concern. I can’t help but be equally careful with my current Polaroid SX-70 integral film photos.

Most photographic print materials typically have an exposed emulsion layer on a paper substrate which makes them particularly vulnerable to acidic materials, physical wear-and-tear and what-have-you. This demands mount boards and mats that meet conservation standards and mounting corners or hinges that are not only acid-free and archival but allow for the print to be removed (to be repaired or reframed) without physical damage.

However, SX-70s are significantly different; the emulsion is sandwiched between polyester sheets front and back with white plastic seals along all edges. To that extent, you would think SX-70s are less vulnerable than paper-based prints to acidic matting and mounting materials. It’s hard to gauge because so little is known about the longevity of SX-70 photos. 

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Presenting Polaroids Part 1: Getting Started

Note: The companion YouTube video can be found at the bottom of this post.

So far, my Polaroid-centric videos and blog posts have focussed on the technical side of getting a good SX-70 image on that shiny piece of plastic that comes out of the camera. Many will be duds but, with luck and a little bit of skill, some of those photos will be so beautiful that they demand some way of presenting them to the world that capitalizes on and reinforces their beauty.

Back in my darkroom days, spending hours tweaking an image to make the best possible print was a rewarding process. But when I matted them, framed them and hung them on the wall, well, that took the experience to a whole different level.

The Polaroid experience is different of course. The little package of polyester and chemicals that ejects from my camera is the negative, the darkroom and the print all in one. When it works, it is a truly rewarding experience and, just as I did with my darkroom prints, I have that same urge to make the best possible presentation out of my little SX-70s.

That’s what this series of posts is about. I want to move beyond pinning a bunch of Polaroids to the wall or, what I would call, warehousing Polaroids in plastic sleeves in an album.  I want to take my photos to the next level. I want to see them—and for others to see them—as the extraordinary little jewels that they are. In short, I want them to pop.

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Your invitation to my photography exhibition: From Our Windows

I’d like to invite you to my upcoming photo exhibition, “From Our Windows: Polaroids by David Firman” at the Winnipeg Architectural Foundation (WAF), 266 McDermot Avenue in Winnipeg. 

“From Our Windows” is a personal story of life contained within four walls. Set during the early days of COVID-19, the story explores the relationship of sanctuary to the now-viral world outside, separated yet connected through thin sheets of glass. In the late 1970s, photographer André Kertész was living a parallel narrative. Old age and isolation—his wife had recently passed—left him looking through the window of his New York apartment, a story he told through Polaroid pictures and his 1981 book, “From My Window”. Separated from Kertész’s by forty years, I see my work as a synchronous search for beauty in the face of loss.

The show runs April 1-29 and will be open for viewing noon to 4:00 PM, Monday to Friday.

On April 1, 7:00 to 9:00 PM there will also be an ‘alfresco’ opening, meaning that I will greet you on the street in front of the WAF gallery.

Note that, due to the tight exhibit space, masks are required and access is limited to two people per visit.  

I’d love to meet you at the opening but feel free to pay a visit anytime during the month of April. And, if you can’t get to the show, all the photos can be viewed on my website, www.firmangallery.com.

Lastly, there is a companion book, “From Our Windows” available for purchase at the opening or on my website www.firmangallery.com.

Regards,

David

The 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Here we go again. Another pandemic year. While Gail, Styxx and I have made the best of the year with road trips to our provincial neighbours in Saskatchewan and roamed across southern Manitoba, travel has been substantially curbed by Covid-19.

So, this year’s gift list is a little different.

It totally reflects my renewed interest in Polaroid photography, a creative habit (or addiction) that I picked up at the beginning of the pandemic, back in March 2020.

Lastly, the video is shot outdoors…entirely outdoors…in Winnipeg…In December! It had to happen.

It is also my first video gift guide. As you may be aware, I have been posting a number of Polaroid-centric videos on my WalkClickMake YouTube channel. It makes sense that this year’s gift guide be a part of that new venture.

On with the show!

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Polaroid Now+ Camera Tip No. 2: A Simple Filter Holder Hack

If you have been following my recent SX-70 posts, you will know that I have a fanatical desire to reign in the capricious behaviour of SX-70 cameras and films, all in an attempt to maximize the quality of the ejected photos. This has included a deep-dive into the Zone System, using a calibrated variable neutral density (VND) filter to gain more exact exposure control and using black and white filters to enhance Polaroid black and white photos. 

All these techniques require a manually controlled camera which, until recently, was limited to the rather pricey MiNT SLR670-S, my camera of choice. With Polaroid’s release of the Now+ comes an affordable means to manually control shutter speed and aperture settings using the Polaroid app . What’s missing is some way to attach a VND. And, although the Now+ comes with light yellow, light orange and light blue slip-on filters, which can be used with Polaroid’s black and white films, it would be nice to attach darker versions as well, such as red and green black and white filters in front of the Now+ lens.

Fortunately, there is an easy hack that costs nothing. Polaroid kindly includes a rubbery slip-on lens cap with the camera. The front of the cap has a slightly recessed area stamped with the Polaroid logo. By carefully cutting out this recessed panel, it turns out that the opening is just the right size to friction-fit 40.5mm filters. Simply slide the modified lens cap over the lens and twist-in whatever 40.5mm filter you wish to use. 

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