Polaroid Photographer Elsa Dorfman Dies at 83

Elsa Dorfman, the photographer best-known for her portraits captured with a 20×24-inch Polaroid camera, passed away this week at the age of 83. We wrote a little bit about her in our January newsletter, in reference to Errol Morris’ delightful documentary from 2017, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography.

Living in Cambridge, Mass. (the hometown of Polaroid), Dorfman was a master of the Polaroid 20×24 large-format camera, a behemoth of which only a handful were made. Over the course of 30+ years, Dorfman photographed family members and celebrities in her studio with the large camera, usually preparing two photographs on the instant-film format: one for her and the other for her subject. Now, as supplies of the film are drying up, and with her own advancing age, Dorfman is winding her studio down. (If you’d like a deeper dive into Dorfman and her work, Harvard Magazine did an extensive feature on her, “The Portraitist,” a few years ago.)

Dorfman was a singular talent. Her portraits, made with a cranky beast of a camera on a tempestuous medium, were vibrant and full of life and love. They were unique in every sense—even the two shots for every session—and her process, lovingly captured in the documentary, was thoughtful and direct.

At the time we posted this, The B-Side is still available on Netflix, and for rental or purchase on iTunes and Amazon Prime. It is a movie worth watching if you’re interested at all in studying the photographer’s craft, and a bittersweet meditation on one photographer’s life at the end of her career.

Other links to Dorfman:

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