Elsa Dorfman

I like to call myself a photographer. I took all the photography courses offered in college. I have a large format camera, several medium formats, and multiple SLRs. I shoot film: B&W, C41, slide. I even have an adapter for my large format 4×5 to shoot…instant film.


Several years ago I watched the amazing documentary The B Side by my favorite documentarian Errol Morris (quite a departure from his political work). It’s about the photographer Elsa Dorfman whose lifework was dedicated to using a Polaroid 20×24 camera. Her portraiture is simply beautiful. As is her life philosophy and her philosophy of photography. Unfortunately, Elsa passed away this June 2020. Here is her obituary in the NYTimes.


I personally have, overtime, gravitated to portraiture as well. The surfaces of people, how they present themselves when under the gaze of the camera. Their visage can be so mercurial in an instant. One of the things I love about using instant film – aside from aesthetic sentiments such as its hue and saturation – is the ability to share the portrait with the subject almost immediately. The reaction is always so interesting: from disgust to curiosity. Oddly, one of the things I love about it is it takes away one of my favorite parts of photography: printing (I love spending time in a darkroom and playing with toners). This omission is powerful: it makes photography a little less disingenuous. Of course, one can still scan it and fiddle around with it there. The difference between shooting digital and instant is also the tactility, which is one of the reasons why I still shoot analog.