21 Polaroids : Frances Beatty
The BIG Festival  :  polaroid art party  :  Saturday 21 June 2008

It could have been a wake, but we planned a party instead.

On February 8, 2008, Polaroid announced that the company would cease production of instant film. There have been threats in the past, but this time no manufacturers have stepped forward to buy the rights. This has devotees in mourning and panic.

Polaroid artist, Frances Beatty, took to the street - Bloor Street West - to create a memorial; a memorial in keeping with the immediate and often fun, impact of the Polaroid medium.

Says Beatty B "Polaroid has an incredibly nostalgic quality. Besides the dimmed colours reminiscent of the 1970's, I find it truthful, which makes it very nostalgic for me. You don't take a Polaroid, step back, look at it and say 'Oh, I don't look so great, can we take that again?' It's too expensive and time consuming. I find that digital takes away the element of truth, so dominant in Polaroid photography".
annhomanART is one of the new institutions in the Bloor/Lansdowne area taking an active role in bringing a positive influence to the community. Ann Homan, the gallery director, has made it her mission not only to bring interest to the area, but also to showcase emerging artists.

Homan feels very passionately about what she does and provides her personal time, money and space to give the opportunity to young artists to show their work. Having found Beatty at the OCAD graduate show in April 2007, Homan hosted Beatty's first solo show in March 2008. When the proposal for The BIG Festival found its way to Homan, she approached Beatty on a collaboration to promote annhomanART, Beatty's photography and the Bloor/Lansdowne community.
The object of the day was to bring artists, galleries, art institutions, theatre companies, residents, neighbours, and vendors of all kinds to animate the street. The BIG Festival closed 2.5 km of Toronto's Bloor Street West, from Lansdowne to Christie - an at-risk area, yet clearly full of interest and appeal.
People are sometimes afraid of this strip of Toronto's main street. Commercial taxes which are out-of-step with the reality of the neighbourhood keep storefronts empty. Long-time residents do their strolling, dining, and shopping in other neighbourhoods. But on this day some 60, 000 people strolled Bloor. Beatty and Homan chatted up hundreds, and over the course of the day, in countdown order, Beatty took 21 polaroids.
Twenty-one for the June 21st summer solstice. Twenty-one for the remaining two packs of Polaroid film (plus one for luck) from her rapidly dwindling collection of film.

Engaging festival-goers at the first annual The BIG Festival, Beatty staged a countdown to the last days of Polaroid. Those wandering near the annhomanART tables were approached (Accosted? Sometimes.) by Beatty and Homan to see if they could provide the next number in the countdown using personal data - date of birth, age, month of birth. At first people were a little apprehensive, but after a while excitement started to build. The first subject thought Beatty was a fortune-teller when she hit on a correct date - "Excuse me sir, were you born on the 21st?" He was - October 21st, and Dylanesque, to boot! (See Polaroid #1) As the day progressed, people came back every 5-10 minutes to check if it was time for their number yet.

"Not many people get to be part of an art piece, and that's something I tend to take for granted as an artist with a lot of artist friends. At first I wasn't sure how well it would go over, in fact, I was quite nervous about the approach,” says Beatty. “Luckily, Ann was excited about the idea and really nudged me to run with it. I must admit, I didn't sleep very well the night before, thinking that I may not get anyone to pose for me, but it paid off beautifully! It was thrilling to watch how excited people got about having their photograph taken and being part of this experience."
The piece created the maximum in interaction with passersby, engaging them in conversation about the day, about themselves, and about photography. Most didn't know about the end of production of Polaroid, some didn't care, of course, others engaged Beatty in full on commiseration about the loss of the medium.
Another neighbourhood artist had just seen Yoko Ono's Polaroid performance piece in New York City. Ono had hundreds of packs for her piece. For Beatty, an emerging artist, the cost of the remaining supply is prohibitive.

"The price of Polaroid film has always been expensive, $32 for twenty images is hardly something people can justify to themselves. A lot of stores have seen the panic brought on by the diminishing stock as an opportunity to make a hefty profit. The last pack of film I bought was $54 for twenty images. I used to be able to convince myself that $32 was ok for two packs of film, but as an emerging artist and recent grad, I just can't afford to do that anymore with prices nearly doubled."
Throughout the course of the festival, Beatty also took long time exposure, pinhole polaroids to document the mood of the event. An image was captured once an hour. "Pinhole photography is always a gamble. If the light changes in the middle of an exposure, it can be lost entirely. Some images from the day didn't turn out; others captured the movement and the mood of the day quite well. I still feel a little free in experimenting with this format of film (medium, 669) as Fujifilm makes something comparable. It doesn't hurt as much when it doesn't turn out. If any of my portraits hadn't turned out, I would have been a little crushed."

Luckily, the portraits did turn out, and Beatty and Homan have twenty-one engaging images to showcase here.
After 6 hours, a little bit of rain, live performances, hot food, and hundreds of chat-ups, the festival ended, but the people remained. Some to dance to the music still playing, some to take advantage of the empty street and left over tables for an impromptu picnic, and all to joyfully discuss the positive experience of the festival itself.
The BIG Festival not only created the longest street party ever, but also a renewed sense of community. Seeing tens of thousands of people on the street, talking, eating, enjoying and making art, put Bloor & Lansdowne on the map.

21 Polaroids helped capture the nature of the festival and the active role people wish to take in their community. The panic and sadness surrounding the demise of Polaroid remains, but Beatty takes great comfort in knowing that her last images were able to bring joy to strangers, and contribute to the vitality of this urban community.