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Kel Thielen

JAN - FEB 2024

Artist Statement

Reflections on the 20x24 Polaroid, 20-24 years later

For about a decade beginning in the mid 90’s, I had the immense fun of working for the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.  As full-time staff, I had the benefit of tuition remission which allowed for two free classes every semester, a benefit I worked to my advantage culminating in a degree after only seven or so years!  This benefit also allowed me to explore a number of disciplines, and experiment and blend my favorites.  This love of learning continues today as each new craft, skill, or process still holds the lure of discovery for me...

Statement Continued...

As a lab technician for The School’s Photography Department and Facilities, I began experimenting with photographic materials, alternative processes, and Polaroid.  In 2000, one of the 20x24 Polaroid Cameras (there were only 6 ever made) came to Chicago and I signed up for a tuition-free one-time only semester using the camera.  


I loved the detail brought out by the immense Polaroid images, and decided to hang various leaves, flowers, stalks and stems to dry, in order to capture the resulting passage of time- a warped mirror of the lush blooms used to advertise the film.  The act of stringing the plants up to dry is referenced in my choice to clip the resulting images to hanging line.


The very process of making images with the largest of formats leant itself to varied result; this camera did not come with the ease of a simple push of the button, or the irreverence of “shaking it like a Polaroid picture” to develop.  Rather, its unwieldy nature required separate rolls of positive and negative continuous film that were then brought together with the breaking of a chemistry pod holding the developmental magic.  This meant that the most deliberate lighting, exposure or scene still held the possibility of chaos: undeveloped areas, chemical stains and unknown results until fully developed- a 90 second holding-of-breath that seems an eternity against our current demand for instant results.


The beauty of the imperfect resonated beyond the large images and took root in the more size and budget-friendly Polaroid transfers that followed.  I transferred my film into slides and then exposed them onto the smaller Type 669 Polaroid film through a PolaProcessor.  The results show the range of possibility offered to artists drawn to its ephemeral nature. 


These images, objects, and process are a snapshot of my own history- a time and place that cannot be revisited.  Polaroid ceased production of its film in 2008.  

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