I started taking these Polaroid
self-portraits in London, circa 1986.
A book “Paranoids”
by photographer Ralph Steadman
, who brilliantly and innovatively hand-manipulated his Polaroid shots of “the rich, the not so rich and the famous”, profoundly inspired me and prompted me to experiment with this still popular (at that time) medium I had dabbled with since my early childhood.
I guess I could say that a few decades before the "Era of the Selfie" my Polaroid self-portraiture was really started as a strategy to document what felt like an excruciatingly slow passing of time in my life (I was still trying to establish myself with my work, always penniless, hungry, often rain-drenched) and perhaps also to obtain a tangible proof (through some unique prints on a paper backing), of my existence as a human being and artist over weeks and months of great solitude and isolation on a rainy island.
Nearly every weekend, I used to go to Brick Lane Market
, in the East End of London, where, amongst ceiling-high piles of all kinds of junk, I was able to purchase a couple of Polaroid cameras for next to nothing.
I wasn’t working much in those days and I was living in a huge squat, a crumbling down Edwardian House in Camden Town, I had plenty of time on my hands and not many phone numbers in my address book, so I just started taking a Polaroid self portraits to fill long hours of lonely chain-smoking idleness, while waiting for my agent to call me with some kind of job….
I would usually hold the camera with one hand, keep it at arms length and shoot myself, then, within the first couple of minutes of the image developing, I would scratch it, massage it, punch it, paint it with liquid paper, scribble on it with a sharpie marker or mangle it and deface it in some other way.
I am, not too sure, to this day, what Sigmund Freud would think of this.
Anyway, the time constraint of the manipulative action was what thrilled me the most. You really had to concentrate your creativity in those couple of minutes of the photo-chemical reaction, with precise and non-editable moves, more like a graffiti painter or a tattoo artist than a traditional photographer.
If you were too slow or did not find some kind of “synergy” with the small square rapidly mutating in your hands, if you were not quick enough to visualize the image emerging from a brownish background and intervene on it cleverly enough, the trash-can was to be the only result.
Non –destructive editing was not in my vocabulary in those days.
My love affair with Polaroid evolved in the following decades onto different subjects, but at first I only shot self-portraits, basically because I didn’t know anybody who would pose for me in my early London days.
I was truly saddened by Polaroid discontinuing their films... just like I am saddened by the progressive phasing-out of Kodak Super8film
, another great creative instrument I extensively used (and still try to use-when I can convince the client) for so many years.