Instant Pictures

An online work for Screens, January 2011

Dust and scratches on scans of old polaroids are keys to a maze of images and captions that circle around and overlap each other.

The photos are dark, damaged, many have an unhealthy yellow cast. The pictures have a metallic tang, some rot is slowly eating them away; their instantaneous magic is going bad on them.  Nowadays an instant image is unremarkable, but a polaroid was a beautiful, spooky thing, a picture blooming in the palm of your hand. When ejected by the camera, the image is smeared between a clear sheet of plastic and the black backing. This plastic photographic sandwich is wrapped around with a white foiled border. If you peel the border away, separating the front image from its black backing, you can see the picture continues a little distance beyond the edge of the frame.  It is the white border and the flat metal envelope at the bottom of the rear of the photograph that I think is corroding.

The chemical smell reminds me of when they were first new, the pictures almost liquid as they squeezed out of the camera, fading into view.  Scanned, cropped and straightened, the photos’ distressed surfaces have gained other layers of information: bits of cat hair, flakes of skin, dusty ghosts of another, later time.

Caption Transcript
a night game, under lights
the chroma on the old tv cranked up
colours almost past the visible spectrum
scanlines buzzing against one another,
blue vs red vs green

a dim afternoon, weather blown in from the tropics
water vapour pulling distant islands near, flattening sound under its weight
waiting rain hanging in the air
giving everything a gloomy shimmer.
inside the treeline, wet with lichen and the smell of moss

the lake’s mirror is a prototype of that old biscuit tin mise en abyme
some printed lids have old stickers
rubbed messages worn back to silver paper
hanging like a dirty moon over southern lakes or prize roses.

the old telephone exchange is arranged in layers
scuffed linoleum, glossy tiles and classical radiators.
the building was built with deep windows and blast shutters
against the Russian invasion that never came.
the equipment is worn, worked over
miles of wires singing with ghost calls
while water pools in the basement

i’ve called it a motel, but it looks somehow more personal
the twin beds of someone’s spare room.
are these pictures of the same place
or scattered details condensed

dust stands for water
this land is all ochre
flora and fauna with strange proportions
designed by some Colonial Office hallucinator dazed by heatstroke and laudanum