Polaroids: Personal, Private, Painterly

Visual Arts

Fri Oct 12, 2018 – Sun Mar 24, 2019

Partner Organization

Bellevue Arts Museum


Bellevue Arts Museum
510 Bellevue Way NE
Bellevue, WA 98004

In the age of 20th century chemical photography, mass image-making required exposed negative film to be developed and printed, and thus seen, by a professional developer. Instant photography changed the game, allowing for image-making away from prying eyes and creating a special bond between the photographer and their subject—often one-and-the-same. The technology to engineer an optical camera that could produce an instant physical photograph was developed by the Polaroid Corporation in 1972. Marketing emphasized ease of use, but, implicitly, the unique selling point of the Polaroids camera was privacy.

Today we live in the digital age of the ‘selfie’, where image-making (and destruction) is almost unlimited. Our photographs can be intensely private and instantly disposable or they can be disseminated to millions via social media. Sometimes, they are both. The polaroid images in this exhibition, images that are personal, private, painterly, and mostly anonymous, become a window not only into a lost world of personal contemplation, but reveal contemporary insight into our own digital culture of public self-reflection.


The Past in Polaroids

Human beings are constantly categorizing. “Polaroids: Personal, Private, Painterly" Photographs from the Collection of Robert E. Jackson, showcases a variety of Polaroids separated into the aforementioned categories. Out of the 13,000 photos in his collection, about 300 are Polaroids, 150 of which were selected and curated by Jackson in conjunction with Ben Heywood, chief curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

“Personal” refers to portraits. These images capture individuals, and the essence of who they are—the focus is on the photo’s subject rather than their actions or environment....

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