Speartalks: Grant Hamilton
You have heard by now that Polaroid film is dying. Rightfully, no, but inevitably, yes, and we have few words to appropriately state our reaction (of the few we have, the following do share company: appalled, mystified, f*cking pissed).
Of course, while we are all justified in experiencing some emotion over this unnecessary loss, there are those among us who have even more right to mourn (see also: picket, riot, send death threats, etc.). One of them is Grant Hamilton, an Iowa City-based professional photographer who cites a 1975 Polariod SX-70 as his camera of choice "“ and who will, come next year, be to find a new medium.
Join us as we A) Take a moment of silence for a great thing lost; and B) Chat with an artist who is approaching some serious changes.
Joshspear.com: Let's cut to the chase: What will you do when your film runs out?
Grant Hamilton: My film will never run out. As long as there is one pack left in my refrigerator, Polaroid isn’t dead.
JS: Are you stockpiling, or are you transitioning into something new?
GH: I currently have 77 packs of 600 and seven packs of Time Zero. So, I guess I am a bit of a hoarder.
The funny thing is, it is probably too much film. I don’t shoot it fast enough to go through 77 packs of film before they expire. In fact, what is in my refrigerator right now is probably equivalent to the total volume of film I have shot so far. I feel like I am buying it just because I “have to.”
JS: I imagine that it's a strange feeling, as an artist, to lose your medium. What was your initial reaction to the news that Polaroid would no longer be supplying you with film?
GH: It is really depressing. Not just for the people like me who are, admittedly, a niche market, but for all the other “invisible” users of Polaroid film: movie continuity, police, dentists, fashion… I realize that Polaroid integral film has fallen out of favor with mainstream vacation snapshooters, but I think there are still enough people buying the film to keep it profitable. I only know the rumors, but I heard that the film business was still making money and that Polaroid shut down the factories only because the lease expired. If that is true, it only makes it worse.
JS: Do you work with any other cameras?
GH: I have a Canon 10D and 1n but I don’t love them. Which is truly awful because I have some really nice lenses. Digital lacks soul. If you look on flickr, most people trying to do something creative with digital are emulating Velvia or cross processing or are shooting through the viewfinder of an old twin lens reflex. To me, that says that something is missing. Shooting slides is OK, but I don’t like having to wait for my film to be developed. What I need is some sort of film that would develop instantly. If only such a thing existed…
JS: What are you currently taking pictures of? Any new obsessions?
GH: Lately I have been getting more into the geometric images. I like the technical challenge of trying to perfectly align the elements of the photo and also the scavenger hunt for subjects. It also probably has something to do with the fact that we’ve had a prolonged and ugly winter, so shooting a bus or a sign is a good fallback option. Regarding my 84 packs of film, I will likely shoot most of that with my daughter. I realize that those photos mean more to me than to others, so if the film is finite, I’d better spend it on something that is really important to me.
JS: Your photos are often too abstract to tell what it exactly a picture of. Where do you find your subjects "“ are they things you find or create yourself?
GH: They are always things I find. I try not to even tilt the camera. If something in a photo is at an angle, it was like that in real-life. I was just in Seattle for the opening of an exhibition and many people wanted to know what my subjects were. I sensed that many people thought I might not want to tell them what I had photographed. I think for some people it does give too much context but, for many of the photos, there is a story behind it, or it was shot in some exotic location. It’s funny to tell people that some of my photos came from Italy or Vietnam.
JS: Your pictures are – and this could just be a personal feeling "“ incredibly cooling. Do you consciously work within those colors and exposures to produce that effect?
GH: I don’t know. Many of them use warm colors. One question I frequently get is about the intensity of the colors. I’m often asked if I do that in Photoshop. I wish I had some secret technique, but all I do is make sure that there is plenty of sunlight, just like the package insert says. I think they are calming because I try to edit out everything unnecessary. I think good photographers are mostly just good editors.
JS: There was a really funny comment on your Flickr page – “I don’t generally want to lick people’s photographs. Grant’s Polaroids, however, make me want to. Is that weird?” – that nicely states the general reaction to your photos. What other sensations do you hope to share through your work?
GH: I hope it feels like a sneeze"“but better. I guess I feel the same way because I’m not trying to make a profound social commentary. I just want to make something that is fun to look at. I think nowadays the kids are calling that “eye-candy,” and candy is fun to lick.
JS: I suppose, once Polaroid film dies, it's only a matter of time before the tribute coffee table books/tee shirts/ etc. start coming out. Any plans to be part of that movement?
GH: Not at the moment. I’m working on a drive-though tuxedo rental business and another thing involving chickens that is classified, so I can’t really talk about it. However, if someone would like to include my photos in a coffee table book about my photographs, I’d be up for it.
JS: It's a chilly day in early 2009; you reach into your tattered man-purse, pull out your Polaroid SX-70, and suddenly realize that the next picture you snap with that camera will be the last one you can ever take. What do you take the picture of?
GH: First of all, it is a masculine European handbag. Secondly, the last picture of my second to last pack (see answer above) will be a self-portrait of me wearing sad clown makeup holding an injured dove. And it’s raining.