Photo Finish

Meet the artist who discovered oversized Polaroids

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait photography
Roxy Theatre

Opens July 1
3.5 out of 5

Few documentary filmmakers have shaped the genre as much as Errol Morris. The prolific auteur has mastered the talking-head interview, transforming the most stationary of setups into a dynamic experience.

Morris’ work can be divided in two categories: vexing political pieces (The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure) and eccentric, soulful profiles (Tabloid, Gates of Heaven). The B-Side, a brisk 75-minute long interview with an artist whose career came to an end when supplies for her craft stopped being produced, belongs to the latter group.

The subject in question is the disarmingly candid Elsa Dorfman. Initially a shutterbug for a poetry rag, Dorfman fell in love with large-format instant photography, courtesy of hyper-rare 20×24 Polaroid cameras. According to the artist, the camera let her capture details normally lost in standard blow-up photography. One of her most frequent subjects was her friend Allen Ginsberg, with whom she had a 50-year long friendship.

Polaroid stopped making film for Dorfman’s cameras last year but she saw the writing on the wall much earlier, when the company first went bankrupt in 2008. She stockpiled film, but chose to retire in her own terms.

The B-Side (referring to the rejected photo out of two options) is — like most of Errol Morris’ work —simple, yet layered. There’s Elsa’s story, the rise and fall of instant photography, and the fading of the bohemian lifestyle.

The B-Side doesn’t show a master at work, but one honing his instrument. It’s fun to watch Morris play. ❧