Pups and Polaroids: Five Questions for Jesse Freidin

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Jesse Freidin specializes in pet photography, particularly dog portraiture (though the list of animals he’s photographed includes the occasional elephant). He’s been voted “Beast Dog Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area” for the past three years by Bay Woof. If that’s not enough of a specialty, well, Jesse Freidin only shoots analog. And he has a particular love for Polaroid cameras and Impossible Project films. He’s perhaps best known for his Doggie GaGa project — a series of Polaroid portraits of pooches, dressed up to look like Lady GaGa.

He’s created one book with Blurb already, Fine Art Portraits of Our Best Friends. He’s also the subject of this week’s “Five Questions” interview.

Blurb: What instant cameras do you use?

Jesse: I have an obsessive collection of old Polaroid cameras that I’ve been collecting for years. I use my Land Cameras (accordion-style cameras from the 70s and 80s) to shoot peel-apart pack film- either expired original stock Polaroid film, or newer Fuji films. Each Land Camera has a slightly different personality, a different history, which I connect with on a very intimate level. I also use a variety of Polaroid Spectra/Image cameras which can be used with the new Impossible Project instant films. These cameras are much more automatic, yet still carry a truly unique character. The Impossible films are incredible, and I’ve had amazing results on the Spectra with their new films.

Blurb: What is it about instant photography that appeals to you, particularly for your furry subjects?

Jesse: I am a dedicated analog photographer, so whether I’m shooting instant film or medium format negatives there is always an intensely hands-on aspect to my photography. From start to finish I am drawing on a craft and a heritage of photography that brings a strong sense of intention to each image. When working with animals, this slowness and connection to my tools brings me deeper into a space of understanding, and allows me to create images that celebrate a powerful spirit. Instant cameras show only what is truly present within your subject, which I think is such an inspiring challenge especially when working with dogs.

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Blurb: What special challenges are there for instant film shooters?

Jesse: As an instant photographer, it is your responsibility to know your camera and films inside and out. Because there is really not a standard for instant photography, and because it is still a relatively new realm of photography, everyone gets to create their own style from within a world of quirks and unpredictability. Though it’s challenging to take notes on each new film, each new mistake or success — this is what will allow you to recreate a result that you like. At times it seems like all the elements are against you when you’re using instant film, but it’s the ability to turn those situations into beauty that makes instant photography so exciting and rewarding.

Blurb: Any tips, particularly for getting consistency between photos?

Jesse: Yes! A few things to keep track of are the temperature, lighting conditions, and camera settings used with each image. Instant film is so sensitive before, during, and after it is exposed that once you figure out what your perfect mixture of settings and elements are, you’ll be set. If you store your film in the fridge, let it come to room temperature before loading. If it’s cold outside, put your image in a cardboard sleeve and let it develop close to your body (I prefer the armpit area, myself). If it’s too hot, put your image in a plastic baggie and let it develop in a cooler. Letting your instant images develop properly is just as important as actually exposing them in the camera.

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Blurb: I recently asked on Twitter how many people Photoshop their instant photos, and it was pretty much 20 to 1 against editing (and very passionately so) – how do you see it?

Jesse: Scanning and archiving your instant photos is very important, since they are basically your physical negative. When I’m making hi-res scans of Polaroids to publish in a Blurb book, I do spend a little time removing dust, scratches, and adding a small amount of contrast to allow for optimal printing. But I don’t alter them in a way that makes them truly different from the original. The challenge of instant photography is getting it not only right, but perfect, within your camera. Too much Photoshopping can take away from that raw process. But then again, I’m a crazy purist and have a slight fear of technology. I’m a big proponent of everyone simply finding the process and work-flow that works best for them.

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