I started experimenting with instant film years ago, shortly after I moved to NY and got my first Polaroid camera, which I mostly used for tests during my shoots. Back then I was taking primarily snapshot pictures with cheap disposable and point-and-shoot cameras that later became my first monograph, Lost Boys. Looking back at my old Polaroids, I find it ironic that the shots I rejected at the time as my least favorite now appear to be far more candid and exciting.
Then I discovered instant photo booths, in which I took countless self-portraits – some of them nude, others in masks, leather or fetish gear. My favorite b/w photo booth in San Francisco, near Castro, had a great vintage film, really contrast and with a beautiful texture. I would go there sometime a few days in the raw with different props and ideas. Little did I know that one day those fetishistic instant self-portraits would end up in a museum!
My introduction to Impossible film was rather incidental. I was invited to be a part of a group show For Private Use curated by East Village Boys at The Impossible Project space in NY in the summer 2012. For that show, my boyfriend Brian Kenny & I did a series of patriotic self-portraits in American thongs, which was a lot of fun. Then we shot more pictures with Brian’s deconstructed American flags, with stars and stripes removed and reconfigured in different ways. Considering that Brian grew up in a military family and I was a gay refugee from Russia, that series became our commentary on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the fight for the recognition of same-sex marriage in the US and beyond.
To me, instant equals intimate. There’s something about the magic of pictures developing right in front of your eyes that nothing compares to. It’s fascinating to see people’s reaction while they look at their features coming through and sharing the excitement at good results. After all, everyone is a narcissist deep inside, everyone loves to have their portrait taken, even those who would never admit it…
I never look for my subjects, my subjects find me. Most of my work is about people and portraiture. I’m a voyeur, so I’m best at documenting people in intimate settings. Maripol and I share the same passion, that’s why we decided to call our show Intimate Portraits. I feel like I’m documenting my extended family – my fellow renegade artists and bohemians who inspire me and always give their best to the camera. I see this project as one continuous family album, with faces and people dear to me.
I find shooting instant film quite helpful with my recent experiments in 120mm film—thanks to the similar square format and similar formula I have developed for both. I tend to think of my pictures as stories, so I have to decide what I want to say in so many images in order to capture the mood. Organizing the pictures in grids of 4 allows me to tell each story from slightly different angles, almost like a movie strip. Shooting instant also helps you to be more precise, focused and economic, which is, perhaps, the most valuable lesson I learned working on this project.
Instant gives you a chance to edit the work right there on the spot, to see your mistakes and be able to fix them in the following shoots. Of course, sometimes the mistakes take you into a whole new territory and become your next best thing. I love the retro quality of the Impossible film—there’s something very nostalgic and innocent about it. The most challenging part is finding the best lighting and preserving the pictures from fading. There’s always a room for improvement and I’m curious to see where this Impossible adventure will take us next!