• 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

Portrait12

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

    Johnny Dufort is a photographer from Cornwall who is currently living and working in London. That’s about all we know of him thus far, but we’re dead certain it won’t be the case for long; the young’un was picked up by i-D earlier this summer as one of the new generation of photographers, and as they so aptly phrased it, “learn their names, because you’re going to need them!”

  2. List

    Ester Grass Vergara has been on the site before with her wonderful monochrome plants but her portraits of beautiful human beings are just as enticing. Her style is all about the crisp lines and fresh faces with wonderful tones and shadows glancing off sculpted cheekbones and glistening hair.

  3. List

    Ambition is an often underrated component of creative undertakings, but that’s not a charge that can be levelled at Robert Bösch’s genuinely astonishing shoot for Mammut’s 2015 campaign. Working with hundreds of specialist climbers, Robert took this extraordinary series of images to mark the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn ridge by Edward Whymper. These pictures have been doing the rounds for a few weeks now but if you haven’t come across them yet then let yourself be dazzled by their brilliance and the organisational feats that brought them into being.

  4. List

    If you’re yet to be acquainted with the weird and wonderful world of Toiletpaper then allow us to introduce you. Artist Maurizio Cattelan, photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari and art director Micol Talso got together some years back to create images which distilled their passion for the bizarre, the grotesque, the darkly humorous and the sensual. From this came Toiletpaper Magazine, and before long their work had spread across the fashion and art industries like wildfire, picking up the attention of a number of big-time brands along the way. No surprises there.

  5. List

    It’s a well-established fact that even the most conceptually exciting product designs can fall flat on their face if they’re photographed poorly. Imagery can often make or break these projects. And while of course this isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s worth taking this part of the process seriously to maximise the chances of your work cutting through the noise.

  6. List-kurt

    Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain is easily one of the most mythologised, eulogised and conspiracy-theorised musicians of the last century. Whether we consider his sad induction into the 27-club, his tumultuous relationship with Malaysia Airlines mystery-solving wallflower Courtney Love or the various mental and physical ailments that manifested themselves so intensely through his songs, Kurt’s was a life destined for scrutiny.

  7. List

    To say that Rebecca Reeve enjoys a magnificent view is not to do her work justice. The British-born, New York-based photographer has long been occupied with framing landscapes with domestic devices in her work, from placing a pair of translucent curtains around a mountain range and invoking the Dutch custom of covering paintings at the wakes of deceased family members to help them make the transition to the afterlife, to hanging a blind in front of a swamp to oddly effective ends. On an aesthetic level this unusual use of the prop partially obscures her chosen view, bringing a curious sense of mystery to the image, but the subversion of that familiar sense of domesticity resonates much further than surface level, creating an odd feeling of displacement with a surrealist slant.

  8. List

    A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4 aired a documentary (below) which saw photographer Giles Duley (himself a triple amputee) meet some of the disabled victims of the war in Syria. It was a difficult watch but an extremely important story to tell, and one that meant a lot to Giles. He got in touch to say that although The Guardian ran an in-depth piece on the same theme, he had some photographs which weren’t used that he was really keen to get out there.

  9. Main1

    Every once in a while it’s worth having a good old stare at the architecture around us. Often we simply stop noticing buildings because they’re so good at doing what they’re supposed to do; which is a shame because as well as functionality, there’s an overlooked beauty within those structures we can all appreciate.

  10. List

    If you ask me, the beauty of Maciek Pozoga’s work lies in the fact that it can’t be pinned down. He’s eternally “juggling between documentary, art and fashion,” as his website explains, resulting in a style which grows “from a specific conception of documentary images, naturalistic and authentic but tinged with poetry and humour.”

  11. Main

    I’m super into these portraits by Maya Fuhr, I think I spent about 45 seconds staring into the pond-coloured eyes of the guy two pics down. Maya’s got this magic touch when it comes to photography, her work is so simultaneously humble and powerful, making her the perfect candidate for quietly strong editorial and personal work. We’ve covered her editorial before – a brilliant photo shoot of girls in messy bedrooms – but something about the power of her portraits made us want to write about her again. She also recently opened up to us about her days as college a fresher, and the perils of choosing the wrong degree (with some brilliant photographs of her in 2008 to accompany it, naturally).

  12. List

    In December last year we received a zine in the post from Yorkshire-based photographer Christopher Nunn that documented a small selection of images he’d gathered in Ukraine. Kalush offered a unique perspective on a region that was thrust suddenly and violently into the public consciousness, showing us the quiet, everyday side of a place that – from television coverage at least – you’d have been forgiven for assuming was razed to the ground.

  13. Main_15.08.13

    Another one pilfered off Haw-Lin here I’m afraid, (I can’t help it if their taste is better than everyone else’s can I?). This charming selection of photographs of aesthetically-blessed chaps hanging out with pedigree dogs is by Philippe Jarrigeon, the man who once charmed us with square oranges back in the day. This shoot was commissioned by the spectacular Double Magazine, and is testament to why they’re currently on their 27th issue – they clearly know what they’re doing content-wise. If you think cute boys and pups are click-bait then I’d be inclined to disagree – the world needs happy photography, and you don’t get much more joy in an editorial than this. Like what you see? Let me point you this way to another fantastic shoot with a similar concept from 2012.