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
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
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
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