Take me to a special place where we can see the sky. Walk with me for a while and tell me about the things you hold precious. When we’ve walked enough we could find a cafe for tea and cake.
The spark bizarrely took the form of a £3.50 Polaroid camera that I found in a charity shop; I took a chance, loaded it with the considerably more expensive film and embarked on an analogue adventure with my son Jude. We were on holiday in Cardiff at the time with tickets for Olympic football at the Millennium Stadium and decided that this was a significant moment in our life that should be documented.
Jude was wearing a DIY Union Jack suit which we had created as a punk style protest to his primary school’s request that he should dress as a prince to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and as he walked ahead of me on the evening of Great Britain V South Korea I took a test shot.
The thrill of flipping the chunky camera casing to reveal its lens and flash, the heavy clunk and whoosh of the ejected Polaroid and the nervous anticipation I experienced as the image developed combined to elicit ridiculous levels of excitement. After the 20 minutes of development time had passed in the gloom of my pocket I retrieved my Polaroid and admired its muted colours and multiple imperfections. It occurred to me that I was holding a tangible artefact in my hand that represented a split second of my son’s childhood and despite going on to take 100s of digital images to document my family’s summer, it’s this image evokes the strongest emotions and strongest sense of time and place.
This experience led me to consider the magical qualities of Polaroid photography and the powerful way in which an instant photograph can evoke the emotions felt at the time that it was taken. I treasure a handful of Polaroid photographs that I keep stashed in a battered shoe box alongside gig tickets, badges and love letters; they are one offs, commemorating moments in time that I can’t retrieve and without the counterpart of a negative or digital file, possessions that I can’t replace. They take me back to the places I fequented and the people that I was close to.
I was keen to incorporate Polaroid photography into ‘I Would Like to Get to Know you Better’ and felt that using it within the second stage of the project would be particularly relevant. I invited each of my collaborators to take me to a place of personal significance to them which gave me an opportunity to investigate instant photography’s value as a tool to document a process that can only happen once. I decided to work within the parameters of only taking 2 Polaroids per place in the hope that I could capture an image that was symbolic of the ephemeral nature of the visit.
The chosen places were varied both in terms of location and relevance to the individual. Over the course of 2 months, I experienced sub zero temperatures in the Yorkshire Dales, had a ride on a miniature railway at Well-Next-the -Sea, hunted for ghost signs in Leicester, admired the University of East Anglia’s ziggurats, explored an abandoned brewery and photographed a power station in Nottinghamshire and rambled through enchanted woods in 2 different locations in Lincolnshire.
I walked, talked and listened to my collaborators and with the help of tea and cake discovered the associations and emotional significance that each place held for them. There were places of recovery, escape, reflection and inspiration; some marked the passage of time or a new beginning and others made sense of the past or suggested a utopian future. Each visit was swathed in openness and generosity and an amazing life affirming experience, creating special moments that I will cherish.
The series of Polaroid photographs documenting my collaborators relationship with a personal place not only capture a fleeting moment in time but are symbolic of a more intimate relationship between the photographer and subject enhanced by the warmth of human exchange.
You can view the gallery of places here
©Katie Smith 2013