Snapshots and Spice Cams at the PVD Polaroid Project

 Visual Arts Dept.
By LIZ LEE  |  July 23, 2014

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SMILE! Pics from the Polaroid Project.

Do you know what a Spice Cam is? It’s probably not what you think.

In 1998, when the fortunes of the Polaroid Corporation were in steep decline and the Spice Girls were at the peak of their fame, the company best known for its instant film cameras unveiled its latest model: a pink and purple piece of Spice Girls ephemera that represented a last-ditch effort to stay relevant in the digital age. A few years later, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy. In 2007 the company stopped making cameras altogether.

Thanks to Devan Durante and Brandon Lane of the PVD Polaroid Project, we can all get our fix of the tangible instant gratification of Polaroid photography without having to scour eBay for cameras and film. As part of PopUp Providence, a city-funded art initiative focusing on impermanent and participatory public art, the project is making its home at 235 Westminster St until August 22. The space functions as a camera shop, photo gallery, and portrait studio — a place where Lane and Durante hope to help participants feel inspired by, and connected to, Providence.

“It’s like the haiku of photography,” Lane says of Polaroid. “It’s concise, it’s brief, and you’ve really got to think a little harder to make every shot count.” With film prices averaging about $3.50 per photo (currently only one company in the Netherlands manufactures the film) there’s a sort of forced accountability when shooting in Polaroid that gets lost in digital photography, says Lane. “You’ve got to frame the image perfectly because you only have that one chance,” he says.

The idea for the project was born out of Lane’s and Durante’s mutual love of all things analog, and the premise is simple. All are invited to check out the living history of Polaroid at the space, where there are about 25 different models dating as far back as 1957 on display, in various shapes, sizes, and colors (including the Spice Cam). Visitors are then encouraged to become project members by having their portrait taken using a 1970s-era Polaroid “Big Shot.” The portrait then goes up on the wall and becomes part of the gallery. Project members can also borrow a camera, take it out for the day, and snap landscape shots of the city to add to the exhibition. At the end of the project’s five weeks, members get to reclaim and keep their photos. The whole experience is free and open to the public.

For Lane and Durante, long-time best friends and Rhode Island natives, the project is also a means of giving back to the city and creating a visual love letter to the place they call home. It’s sort of an extension of Durante’s Providence-based company, Standard Film, a mostly web-based film and vintage camera shop fostering “analog experiences in a digital world.” “We just want people to come here and have fun,” Durante says. “It’s something you’re not going to find anywhere else in the city.”

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