Alexander Kargaltsev’s Polaroids

Alexander Kargaltsev is printing a new book with  98 polaroids

Cameras are almost a thing of the past thanks to gadgets. Sixty years ago, without computers, photographs could not be made without great preparation and time. Point and shoot was not so easy. Photography could be a hit and miss operation, at least for the amateur. Your film was sent off to be processed. The developer, like an editor, would not return photos deemed unsuccessful. You might not get any back at all. Photography was full of such thrills and disappointments until the late 1950s, when a new form of camera was developed. The polaroid. With a whirr and a click your image was developed and printed before your very eyes. You pointed the camera at the object and got your results straightaway with no middle-man.
Artists soon were attuned to the advantages of the new medium. Andy Warhol immediately grasped its use, producing images of high artistic value, for example of Dolly Parton, Audrey Hepburn and members of his “family”. David Hockney later went even further with extraordinary multi-image constructions, such as the composite images of his mother or Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, or using slivers of polaroid images to similar effect. But with the rapidly-changing world of cameras and photography, the new machine soon seemed clumsy, cumbersome, slow, too large and then obsolete.

When Alexander moved to New York, auspiciously on 4 July 2010, he brought his polaroid cameras with him and immediately began to experiment, bringing an apparently outmoded invention into the glare of 21st-century America and producing art of substantial quality and imagination.
He used polaroid photography in several ways: as a supplement to his digital images in his two series, Lifeguards and Asylum, both published in book form. Here, he emphasised most of all the vulnerability of his subjects: the questing incomprehension of the life- guards; the bewildered asylum seekers, mixing confidence and fear in equal proportions. The polaroid versions adding immediacy to the images. Elsewhere, Kargaltsev has used a technique to distress a polaroid image, eroding the surface, creating shadows and distortions, ghosts and chimeras. Occasionally he has made prints of these. The results are harsh, weird, unyielding. A number of these are among the artist’s finest works to date in any medium.

In his new collection, taken exclusively in the United States, Kargaltsev brings together polaroid images made over the last five years. Many use two of his favourite models, both originally Russian, but now successfully naturalised Americans: Zhenya and Mitt Jons. But many others are used too, many Russian, others not, friends, lovers and casual acquaintances. Although many of his subjects are male nudes, Kargaltsev’s art cannot be categorised as simply erotic or gay, though it has elements of both. Rather he uses the nude in an almost architectural way, in the swaying forms of the naked dancers, like a staged version of a Matisse painting, or the alternating interlocking black and white figures, creating a beautiful, carefully planned, almost hypnotic effect. More recently, Kargaltsev has experimented with images of graphic forms, photographs of non-representational drawings. These follow in the path of his earlier exploration of the forms and shapes of the human body.
Some of the most beautiful of the photographs are of Zhenya, who projects a boyish faux innocence against a spiral staircase, one of the many images by Kargaltesev suffused with a sly humour. Others show a more rough, unsurpressed comedy, such as Vlad in yellow underwear on a toy horse in a store. But even here, there are more surreal and disturbing undertones which subvert the humour and point to a more conflicted metaphor. Kargaltsev’s range is seemingly limitless: like the polaroid photo itself, Kargaltsev’s work is still developing.

You can preorder the book here