Have you ever owned an instant Polaroid camera? I have and as a kid I couldn’t think of anything more magical. A truly miraculous device – one click, one flash, one moment frozen in time, instantly. The image – glowing with vintage warmth – came in a signature white frame, its instant production fastening and reinforcing the memory of the moment for years to come.
The years of the classic Polaroid, which came to form a queer art genre of its own in works of Robert Mapplethorpe, Tom Bianchi, Attila Richard Lukacs, Slava Mogutin, and David Hockney are over: the company released the last set of film cartridges in 2009 marked to expire in 2012. The end of this exciting era is celebrated in New York in a solo show of Alexander (Sasha) Kargaltsev’s works “The Last Polaroids: Friends and Lovers” set to open at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on February 28.
Sasha, whose work has previously appeared in OUT THERE, is a dedicated explorer of nude male form and all things queer. This body of work – shot in the last of 600 series Polaroid film – evokes questions about the role of nostalgia in contemporary photography, all rendered in this most spontaneous of mediums. Arguably, Kargaltsev is the last artist to utilize this medium, thus adding a critical historic aspect to his male nudes of raw elegance and intimate allure.
“The Last Polaroids: Friends and Lovers” comprises three years of the artist’s almost obsessive devotion to his instant Polaroid camera. I’ve seen Sasha reaching for his camera and snap an instant shot on many an occasion inside his studio and at various events. He began his affair with instant photography quite instantly after escaping Moscow for New York and thus this project functions as documentary evidence of the artist’s first three years in exile.
In these three years, Kargaltsev applied for and was granted asylum, published a book, had several gallery shows, and continued to speak out against homophobia and censorship in Russia and around the world. But at the end of the day, what is our memory if not a pastiche of faces and bodies we have encountered and loved?
As evident from the title of the show, the models in this series are friends and lovers of the artist. They are New Yorkers and Russian refugees, whose cultural, professional, and ethnic backgrounds could not be more diverse, they are who make this city such a special place – the crossroads of the world where friends and lovers dwell.