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Using a 20×24-inch Polaroid to Take Honest Portraits of Movie Stars

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Print of Robert De Niro just out of the camera (screen capture from the video ‘Up Close and Personal’)

Created by Polaroid in 1976, the 20×24-inch instant camera is one of the most unusual and massive pieces of photographic history you can get your hands on (if you’re lucky enough… or have the dough). Fortunately for those of you who want to see the cam in action, photographer Chuck Close managed to do just that in a series of images for Vanity Fair’s 20th Hollywood issue.

First used by artists such as Andy Warhol and even Chuck Close himself, the process of getting your hands on this beast “the size of a Volkswagen” wasn’t as simple as grabbing some film from your nearest drugstore and winding it through your 35mm. Polaroid specifically granted artists access to the camera and film, for free, on the condition that the photographers share some of the images they captured with it.

Four years ago, New York City based 20×24 Studio purchased both the camera and the machines needed to produce the massive instant film, and now allows for it to be rented out on-location in their San Francisco studio, but it’s safe to say your pockets (or partnerships) are going to need to be deep.

For this series of images for Vanity Fair, Close went in with the mindset of creating honest, humanistic portraits of the actors and actresses. His decision to use analogue over digital played a vital roll in this, and he specifically mentions the “honesty” of film over digital images in the video above.

Close also made sure to keep the celebrities appearance and attitude as honest as the medium, telling them to leave the fancy wardrobe and stylists at home. Rather, he instructed them to bring along a single set of clothes and — if they’d like — a friend they’re comfortable having in the studio.

Taking up to three hours at a time, the process can be a grueling one. As Close explains, “You [have to] shove this baby right down their throat” and “bark orders at them” from the other side of the camera. But as inconvenient as it may have been at times, the resulting images show that every bit of effort was worth it.

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Chuck Close (doing his best Walter White impression) and Bruce Willis (screen capture from the video ‘Up Close and Personal’)

In the end, close achieved exactly what he envisioned (not a first, we reckon): he captured very real, personable photographs of the individuals we so often see glamorized, hidden behind facades created by make-up artists, stylists and digital artists.

To take a look at the full series for yourself, head on over to Vanity Fair.

(via Vanity Fair via Imaging Resources)


P.S.: Here’s an incredible FAQ full of intriguing information about the Polaroid 20×24-inch camera; ranging from why Polaroid produced it, to what lenses were made for it.