- William Wegman
- polaroid print
DeLand, Florida, Museum of Art, It's a Dog's Life: Photographs by William Wegman from the Polaroid Corporation, January - March 2004, and traveling to 13 other venues through 2009 (see Appendix 1)
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William Wegman began his association with Polaroid in 1978, when he was invited by the Corporation to use its new large-format 20-by-24-inch camera. This massive camera, in residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used the same instant film technology as Polaroid's consumer cameras which produced snapshot-sized images. The 20-by-24-inch camera provided an opportunity to produce instant images on a much larger scale. As all Polaroid photographs are direct positives, and not enlargements from smaller negatives, larger Polaroid images require a larger camera – one whose ground-glass is the actual size of the desired image. The desire for large-scale Polaroid images resulted in the construction of a huge view camera that produced unique instant images of striking color and clarity.
Until his first encounter with the Polaroid camera, Wegman was known primarily for his black-and-white photography and for his video work, both of which combined the self-referentiality of conceptual art with the artist's own brand of sly visual humor. The subject of the photograph offered here (and in a number of other Wegman lots that appear in the present catalogue) is Wegman's beloved Weimaraner, Man Ray, the photographer's first canine muse. Wegman acquired Man Ray as a puppy in 1970. The dog first became Wegman's constant companion, and then a frequent subject of his work. Indeed, Man Ray serves as a bridge between Wegman's earlier minimalist conceptual work and his increasingly refined and stage-managed color Polaroid work that began in the late 1970s. Color, which had heretofore not been an element in Wegman's work, comes to the fore with the Polaroid images, and Man Ray, with his rich black/dusky-blue coat, was the ideal subject of many of these early efforts.
Despite the unwieldiness of the large-format Polaroid camera, which required technicians to assist the photographer, Wegman found it perfectly suited to his imagination. He wrote, 'Polaroid photography, with its instant feedback feature, was closer to the way I worked in video, where I could review the "take" before moving ahead, than it was to traditional photography. It became possible to stay with an idea and spin off in directions I never thought I would go' (Polaroids, p. 36). Avalanche, for instance, and the related image Dusted were taken during a session that began with a very different intent. Wegman wrote that he 'was heading in a very different direction in the Polaroid Studio on the day Dusted came to be. I was transforming Man Ray into a raccoon when I noticed that the white flour I was sprinkling on the top of his nose as a highlight shimmered in a beautiful way. I climbed high up on a stepladder and began pouring the flour over Ray on the black set paper' (ibid., p. 36).
In the now-famous body of work that followed – which featured other canine and occasional non-canine subjects – Wegman fully explored, and exploited, the possibilities presented by the large-format Polaroid camera. Wegman's complete incorporation of the process into his aesthetic has made him – along with David Levinthal and Lucas Samaras – one of the artists most associated with Polaroid's technology, specifically the 20-by-24 camera.
Many of the Wegman Polaroids offered in this catalogue, including Avalanche, were exhibited in It's a Dog's Life: Photographs by William Wegman from the Polaroid Collection, originating at the Deland Museum of Art in Florida, and traveling to 12 other venues. The exhibition offered a definitive account of Wegman's explorations with the Polaroid camera, and showcased his tireless inventiveness as a photographer.