Artist brings Polaroid image cycle to Brandstater

“American Vale #23,” 2010 pigment print from Polaroid original by Susan Mikula
Artist Susan Mikula will exhibit her Polaroid images at Brandstater Gallery

Aug. 27, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker

Polaroid cameras may be a form of ancient technology, but in an artist’s hands they can be used to produce beautiful, intriguing images.

Next month Susan Mikula, an artist from Western Massachusetts and New York, will exhibit selections from her cycle of Polaroid photographs titled “American Bond.” The show will be held at La Sierra University’s Brandstater Gallery Sept. 9-30 with an opening reception Sun., Sept. 8, 6 – 8 p.m. Gallery hours are Mon. – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Mikula’s work consists of a series of digitally scanned Polaroid photos, output in pigment print on rag paper. The images are of industrial dock sites in California, Texas and Louisiana, and of factories in Massachusetts. Her methods involve shooting out of focus and occasionally overlaying images to produce a result that feels like memory.

Mikula has exhibited her work in shows around the United States and in Australia. The Brandstater Gallery show runs concurrently with her exhibit at the George Lawson Gallery in San Francisco.

As described by George Lawson, the “American Bond” cycle of photographs took root in 2009. Mikula traveled to Louisiana and Texas and then on to California to take a series of Polaroid photographs of industrial dock sites using an SX-70 Alpha 1 camera that by then qualified as an antique. She procured the packets of self-developing film on eBay, through garage sales, or wherever she could find them. In some cases the film had been sitting around on people’s dusty garage shelves for decades. The red spectrum of the dyes had faded and the surface emulsions had coagulated, leaving her with a characteristic greenish palette and fractured surface that she learned to exploit. “Mikula has captured a fading aspect of a bygone era with fading film and an obsolete technology,” writes Lawson.

Her series of works unfolded into a cycle of almost 60 finished images that span three years. Mikula shot the cycle with a soft focus intentionally gauged with the adjustable lens or auto-focus override of her camera. Her methods of shooting ostensibly out of focus and occasionally overlaying multiple images allowed her to push the film to accept more light—that is, more information—by intentionally long exposures. She mounts the digital scans of her original Polaroids, printed on rag paper, onto back-framed aluminum, and sprays the final surface with a matte varnish. The image itself is true to the camera shot, and is not digitally post-produced, other than to grow physically larger and to lose the glossy sheen of the original Polaroid.

Mikula gathered the best of the initial images from shoots at Texas and California ports under the title, “American Device,” and then took a second trip, this time inland to Pittsfield, Mass., to shoot the factories and warehouses of companies such as General Electric and Raytheon. By now she knew she was working on a greater cycle, later to be collectively titled “American Bond,” and this second leg of the suite she called “American Vale.”

Brandstater Gallery admission is free. For further information call 951-785-2170. The gallery is located at the Visual Art Center 112, Building 1. La Sierra University is located at 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside.

  • Last update on  August 29, 2013