Instant Collaboration: Ellen Carey, John Reuter, and the 20x24 Polaroid Camera

On view from April 12 through May 15, 2022

Both artists will be in the Williams Center Gallery on Saturday, April 30, starting at 3 pm for a live session using the 20x24 Polaroid camera. The public is welcome to watch them work.

This exhibition explores the relationship between the maker and the apparatus, and in this instance, the makers are Ellen Carey and John Reuter; and the apparatus is the 20×24 Polaroid camera. Instant Collaborations: Ellen Carey, John Reuter, and the 20×24 Polaroid Camera propose that the relationship between and among these players is an instant collaboration ­ an immediate cohesion of labor to produce an image. The collaboration is instant in the way the Polaroid camera as an apparatus creates a print in minutes; instant in the way Ellen Carey is very tactile and immediate with her materials; instant in the way John Reuter manipulates the film to compose his images.

The invention of the instant camera is credited to Edwin Land in 1948. The Polaroid Corporation under Land, developed the 20×24 camera in 1976 to feature the Polacolor peel-apart film at a shareholders’ meeting. Consequently, only five 20×24 cameras were made. Artists were then invited to the Polaroid studios to use the camera, including William Wegman, Chuck Close, and Betty Hahn. The 20×24 camera became a frequent feature at museums, galleries, and film festivals taking portraits of guests in their fineries. The establishment of a New York studio allowed artists like Ellen Carey, Andy Warhol, and Mary Ellen Mark to continue the use of the 20×24 camera. Now, the 20×24 Holdings LLC, under the helm of John Reuter continues the mission of providing access to this beloved camera.

Ellen Carey is an experimental artist working with photography since her days as a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo (MFA 1978). She started using the 20×24 camera in 1983 at the invitation of Polaroid Corp. where she started her Neo-Geo portraits, combining the aesthetics of Op Art, Psychedelic Art, and Minimalist Abstraction. She created dynamic self-portraits that push the notion of portraiture, while embedded within the technological experimentation of this unique apparatus. Carey continues to use the 20×24 camera and extend the boundaries of what can be done with the camera and the peel-apart film as seen in her series “Photography Degree Zero” which started in 1996. Her latest work in this series, Crush & Pull with Rollback & Penlight is currently on view in the Williams Center Gallery.

John Reuter, at the beginning of his artistic career at the University of Iowa (MFA 1978), pushed the boundary of photography through the use of painting techniques with the SX-70 film as collages and transfers. Reuter used the Polacolor film to create large-scale print transfers of which eight are on view at the Williams Center Gallery. These print transfers are sometimes reworked and enhanced with the additional use of pastels, encaustic, or oil paints creating a truly hybridized form. Reuter was hired by Polaroid in 1978 as a photographer and later became the director of the 20×24 Studio. He is currently the Executive Director of the 20×24 Studio and travels to bring the 20×24 Polaroid camera to various locations to teach about its history and continue its use.

This trio of collaborators generates a wonderful dynamic that has proven itself productive and successful since the 1980s. Carey and Reuter embody the 19th Century character of the “camera operator” when using the 20×24 Polaroid camera. These camera operators have the technical knowledge and experience to masterfully utilize the apparatus to the best of its functions. This knowledge also allows Carey and Reuter to transcend this traditional role and enter the realm of artistic production through the extended use of the film, the chemistry, and the camera. With additional support from the R. K. Laros Foundation Inc., Carey and Reuter can share their knowledge and experience with Lafayette College students and the Easton community at large. Selected art students will work closely with Carey and Reuter during a hands-on workshop that will initiate the students’ experience with this large-format instant camera.