Polaroids 1960-1969

In November 2021, Obscura Gallery was honored to debut an exclusive gallery exhibition of vintage, one-of-a-kind Polaroid prints made during Paul’s tenure with the Polaroid Corporation in the 1960’s. In 1959, Ansel Adams introduced the Polaroid Corporation to Paul’s work and that following year Paul became a consultant to the company, testing out their Type 55 negative/positive film, and their Type 53 positive film on his 4 x 5 view camera using a Polaroid back. The 44 images in the exhibition were created in New England as well as Ireland and a majority of the prints in the exhibition were created on Polaroid Type 53, which does not produce a negative and creates a one-of-a-kind positive print. The project came to a close in 1969 with a selection of images created in Ireland, when that same year Paul began his Guggenheim fellowship photographing in that country. Other than exhibiting the work at the Polaroid Corporation and a couple of universities or non-profits this is the first extensive gallery exhibition of this unique work and Obscura Gallery is honored to work directly with Paul in selling this collection and all his photographs.

In 1988 this project was published by the Polaroid Corporation in the book Seasons, which also included a biographical essay written by the photographer and shares the course of his artistic development during these early years – telling the story of how he began his passion for photography at a very young age, alongside his passion for the piano and classical music. Paul recalls how he first worked as a photographer during his army service from 1952-55, during which he was stationed at San Francisco’s Presidio in which he met his first mentor, Benjamin (Bennie) Chin, who worked in the darkroom and ended up introducing Paul to the photographic work of the West Coast luminaries Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and Imogen Cunningham, whom had a profound effect on him because of their work’s ‘glowing luminosity’ and ‘strong emotional power’. It was Bennie who helped Paul demystify the Ansel Adams zone system and eventually introduced Paul to later mentors Ansel and Minor of whom he wound up having a long, important relationship with each.

Paul write’s in Seasons, “I had been inspired by Ansel and Minor but once again found it was necessary to separate myself from the world of ideas and influences and seek my own way into the heart of the matter. Although I respected influence, I looked for its deeper roots in order to separate it from personalities.”

It was when Paul moved back to Boston in 1959 after spending time with Minor White in Rochester, when Ansel Adams came to a Boston gallery exhibition of Paul’s nature studies. Ansel himself was a consultant for Polaroid, and brought with him several Polaroid associates to the exhibition, and he suggested they consider hiring Paul part-time. Once he was hired for several days each month, Caponigro tested Polaroid black-and-white film products and cameras, and provided technical feedback on behalf of the community of fine-art photographers. This was a pivotal period in Paul’s career, he was finally able to give up doing commercial photography, which gave him the freedom to devote himself full-time to art photography.

Paul’s tenure with Polaroid in the 1960’s was also a very prolific time in his career, as this is when many of his iconic images were made. It’s no wonder that the subject matter of the Polaroids parallels many of these images with similar subject matter made in New England at some of his most profound image locations including Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts. The Polaroid project resulted in many incarnations of his masterpieces such as nature studies, landscapes and still lifes, while others resulted in new avenues for the artist. This same time-frame brought equal prolific experiences including the marriage to his then wife Eleanor, the birth of his son, John Paul, and the granting of a Guggenheim Fellowship. This grant made it possible for him to venture to Ireland and photograph the mystery of the ancient stones, which is when his tenure with Polaroid ended. Some of his last images for Polaroid were made in Ireland in 1969, and the many other images he made there under the Guggenheim grant eventually culminated into the book, Megaliths.


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