In an airy fifth floor gallery in Soho, music and photography fans are leaning close to the wall to get a good look at Autumn de Wilde’s images.
They’re individual instant Polaroids, not much bigger than post-it notes. For de Wilde, shooting on film is important to her process.
“I wouldn’t have done this digitally, it would look like everyone else’s photos,” de Wilde said. “The Polaroid gives a distinct imperfection to each moment, it’s unpredictable. It changes depending on the heat and the light and the way I decide to spontaneously expose it.”
De Wilde took the photos of the Decemberists as they recorded their latest album, “The King is Dead.” Each of the original polaroid prints are for sale: one will be included in all 2500 limited edition box sets of the album.
Since instant film has no negatives, this means that every person who buys a Decemberists box set will own the only copy of the image.
De Wilde spent a day with each band member, shooting photos in and around Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles. Her photos have a sepia tone to them. They are carefully composed, but playful.
The Decemberists were in the midst of three nights of sold-out New York concerts when de Wilde’s photos went up, and dropped by the opening.
Guitarist Chris Funk says he likes the element of unpredictability in the Polaroids.
“I always compare everything to music, you know, so maybe it’s more like free jazz as opposed to classical,” Funk said. “You gotta let go.”
“It’s about serendipity, and magic, and the weird things that happen in chemical reactions, said David Bias of the Impossible Project.
The Impossible Project is a group of instant film enthusiasts who began producing their own instant film a couple of years ago—after the Polaroid company stopped making it. The Impossible project gave de Wilde the film she used.
The unique feel of analog photography is quickly becoming popular in the digital realm as well. For a few dollars, iPhone users can even take digital pictures that don’t look digital using the “Hipstamatic” app. Its filters and effects to make their snaps look imperfect, like old film.
But it’s still not the same as what artists like de Wilde are doing, says Robert Hirsch, a photographer who has written about the social history of the medium.
“You can do things digitally with an image that would be extremely difficult to do in an analog process,” he said. “But you don’t have that physical attachment to it, and for a lot of artists, that’s really a critical aspect of what they do and it shouldn’t be something that is lightly dismissed.”
The Decemberists value this aspect of de Wilde’s work. And she appreciates how visual the band is— she says it’s not hard to see pictures in your head when you’re listening to their music.
And her photos make those pictures visible to everyone else.