• Herooo

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

Photography

William Miller turns damaged polaroids into fascinating and beguiling abstract artworks

Posted by Rebecca Fulleylove,

Finding the silver lining on that frayed, grey cloud definitely helps brighten the day – even better when it provides you with a project. Photographer William Miller had this happen to him after buying a polaroid camera at a yard sale. Every photo he took was warped from failing mechanisms and over-exposure, but fear not for the results of these chemical reactions are beautiful, psychedelic and random. Ruined Polaroids are like snapshots of abstract landscapes or unreal rock formations rich with colour and unrepeatable singularity. Here’s the photographer himself to tell us more about the process..

So William, how did you first discover this technique?

These pictures are taken with a camera that is, by most definitions, broken – an old Polaroid SX-70 camera that I rescued from a yard sale last year. With its first use I realised the camera wasn’t functioning properly. It sometimes spills out two pictures at a time and the film often gets stuck in the gears, exposing and mangling them in unpredictable ways. In a way this is not a unique event.

Anyone who has ever worked with Polaroid has had a similar experience. I figure about five per cent of all polaroids fail for one reason or another. We all tend to throw them out. They’re a statistical anomaly of such a complicated technology. My slightly broken SX-70 camera inverted the statistics. I was getting ruined pictures almost all the time.

Have you managed to perfect a method of controlling the results?

Sometimes I’ve thought that I was controlling the process but it’s hard to judge. I could accentuate some of the stress that the camera was putting on the film. My wrestling to free the film from the camera had certain effects on it. Much of it, I found was in the editing – that’s where I could have the most say.

  • 7

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

  • 10

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

What do you see when you look at the polaroids?

I see a lot of things when I look at these. Firstly I see the anthropomorphic things, I see topographic maps and hard-to-describe patterns. I also see what clearly look like paintings. But what really interests me is that these things are all coming out of this fascinating old technology – this envelope with a plastic window in it showing pictures made from dried chemicals. I feel like you can’t really see what’s there until you see the physical nature of the polaroid itself.

What do you enjoy about experimenting with an unpredictable approach in your photography?

This project was a fluke. I’m a photojournalist by trade and I happened to come across this broken camera. With it came pure abstraction. There was light and photographic chemistry but no discernable image as seen through the camera lens. The image emerging in the Polaroid was the physical nature of the chemistry itself colored with unfocused light and crushed, violently in the imprecise gears of a ruthless machine.

Yet, somehow they were beautiful. I was impressed with the old technology’s resilience.This flaw that has given the camera that extra dimension has also robbed it of its initial purpose. When the narrative elements are removed from the photographs one can concentrate on the details of its abstraction. Any representational remnants of the original image as well as any hint of the will of the photographer become re-contextualised inside this new dynamic. This doesn’t happen in journalism.

  • 2

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

  • 5

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

  • 8

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

  • 9

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

  • 4

    William Miller: Ruined Polaroids

Becky-picture

Posted by Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca joined us as an editorial intern after studying at Norwich University College of the Arts. She originally wrote for the site between March and June 2012 and returned in the summer of 2014 for a four-week freelance stint.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. List

    I have to confess that the name 02gb didn’t ring any bells for me, but it turns out the photographic duo, which is made up of Max von Gumppenberg and Patrick Bienert, is a pretty big fish on the German fashion scene. Looking through their portfolio this comes as no surprise; they’ve worked for the likes of Hussein Chalayan, Kostas Murkudis, and shot numerous times for Vogue. It’s their lookbook for couture master Valentino that we were seduced by however.

  2. List-p.48-9-st-benedictus-%c2%a9-paul-koudounaris

    Ever wondered what happens when you die? Do our souls live on in heaven, frolicking about with those of our lost loved ones? Is there a dark, black nothingness? Or do we get stuffed to the eyeballs with gems and a big shiny crown thrust on our heads until we’re all trussed up like a little skeleton Liberace?

  3. List

    These photographs in the latest issue of the ultra-slick men’s fashion mag, Arena Homme+, are so incredibly perfect, never have I felt so giddy at the combination of slouched, neutral knitwear and ambiguous, colourful props.

  4. List

    With a portfolio bursting with fashion, editorial and portrait photography, it’s no surprise Tung Walsh’s client list is constantly growing having shot for big-wigs including A.P.C, Dolce and Gabbana, BON and W magazine among others. Capturing a mixture of models and famous folk, his style is cool, edgy and setting the standard in achieving that originality and freshness many photographers can only imitate.

  5. List-1-dai-kannon.-sendai_-japan_-100m-(330-ft).-built-in1991

    Statues are an eternal recognition of a person or event’s impact on society – once erected they become a symbol and a part of the community forever. What interests photographer Fabrice Fouillet is when these effigies are on a monumental scale and take over towns, becoming just as exceptional at the political or religious power they’re representing.

  6. List-conorbeary-3

    When these flaming barrels rolled into our consciousness, we were instantly intrigued. While it’s nothing new to see photographic documentation of strange customs and traditions (James Pearson-Howes, for instance, has captured British Folk traditions to brilliant effect), these images by Conor Beary are no less fascinating. The photographs document a 200-year-old tradition in the wonderfully-named village of Ottery Saint Mary in Devon, which sees the streets filled with fire and wild enthusiasm.

  7. List

    There’s a real appetite here on the internet for old black and white photos being presented in colour, but in the main they tend to focus on historic or social themes. It’s less common to see sports photography undergoing this treatment, which is why we were so struck by the work of Gooner Frog when we came across it on Facebook.

  8. List

    It’s hard to tell at what point Julian Faulhaber’s images are captured; if he’s the first person on site after the completion of a new modernist structure or whether he employs the skills of some exceptionally talented retouchers to clean up all the human detritus that clutters the purity of manmade structures. Either way his images evoke a sense of futuristic newness; of ultra-sleek new buildings awaiting their human occupants. They pay homage to the craft of architecture, celebrate the artistry of interiors and simultaneously poke fun at the absurdity of our aesthetic tastes – seriously, who thought purple, yellow and green stripes was a good idea? They’re also exceptionally visually arresting, so gawp on at the work of this talented chap.

  9. List-tagd10

    Nick Turpin succinctly captures some of Londoners’ least comfortable moments – cooped up in the hot breath and bad smells of a sweltering bus in winter. It’s sticky, it’s awful, and time seems to stop still as the wheels crawl wheezily along. The beauty of Nick Turpin’s work is that it almost makes you forget all that, instead turning these seemingly endless minutes into painterly portraits of Londoners at their most bored, tired and exasperated.

  10. List

    It’s one thing slapping a Valencia Instagram filter on a photo of your roast dinner and mentally patting yourself on the back for your old school photography skills, but it’s quite another to have your subjects dressed up like they’ve just been zapped in from another era and then photograph them to an extremely high standard accordingly. Photographer Robbie Augspurger describes the motivation behind his practice thus – “I like to think of what I wished existed, and then make it” – which is very admirable, really. Especially as what he wishes existed is a series of glamorous headshots so decidedly retro in both styling and format that you wouldn’t think twice if you found them in an old shoebox in your loft.

  11. List

    Kids are weird. Granted I say this as a 30-year-old man with no children, no nieces and nephews and no godchildren, but in the limited dealings I have had with babies and toddlers and whatever you call those ones that are older than toddlers, they are all pretty bizarre. Artist and longtime friend of the site Lenka Clayton has confirmed my suspicions with her project called 63 Objects Taken From My Son’s Mouth..

  12. Main

    No one photographs teenagers like Jamie Hawkesworth. For years we’ve been posting about his ability to capture the infinitely curious in-between stage of adolescence, and quietly knowing that he’s the guy who’s currently got the monopoly on this topic. Recently though, alongside shooting youngsters for mags such as AnOther and The New York Times Style, Jamie’s has been lending his skills to some corporate magazines and brands – a far cry from his time roaming the bus shelters of northern England or the Whitby Goth Festival. This year Jamie was approached by Lexus’ magazine Beyond to follow two chocolatiers on a journey into deepest Vietnam on the hunt for a rare cacao bean. Slight change of scenery.

  13. List-tungsten_beach_6

    When darkness falls, the beach is usually reserved for inebriated frolics and skinnydipping, but photographer Marco Andres Arguello gives our twilight coastlines a new context with his series, Tungsten Beach. Marco focuses on the lifeguard stands and other structures that litter the sandy shores of South Beach in Miami, Florida but timed his photographs to coincide with Urban Beach Week, a hip­hop event notorious for wild parties and mischief. As a precaution, local police have started to set up tungsten floodlights around these structures for security during the event.