The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (2016)
December 15, 2020 8:26 AM - Subscribe

Portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman found her medium in 1980: the larger-than-life Polaroid Land 20x24 camera. For the next thirty-five years, she captured the surfaces of those who visited her studio: families, Beat poets, rock stars, and Harvard notables. As pictures begin to fade and her retirement looms, Dorfman gives Errol Morris an inside tour of her backyard archive.
posted by latkes (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Watched this on Netflix last night and found it so moving somehow. I was struck by how quietly feminist the movie was (a first for Errol Morris as far as I know of his oeuvre) - guided by Dorfman's deep confidence in her own vision. I would be curious to read or watch a more straightforward biography of her life; just a read of her wikipedia page showed even more amazing details of her life than were covered in this film. But I appreciate what Morris did here: mostly just a long conversation over one afternoon one senses, that somehow explores aging and death, along with some fun anecdotes about Dylan etc. Interesting that she avoided ever going the fine art route, and maintained her artistic freedom by being explicitly commercial - in the sense that she always sold her work directly - first selling her portraits of stars, then selling family portraits directly to her customers. She was so skilled and visionary, but clearly didn't give fuck-one about artistic pretension.

I felt myself feeling such intense love and longing for mid-century Jewish East Coast culture watching this... It was like the most Jewish thing ever!
posted by latkes at 8:32 AM on December 15, 2020

Also imagine a time when you could rent a cute Cambridge duplex on what you made selling your photos out of a shopping cart in Harvard Square!
posted by latkes at 9:12 AM on December 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I try to watch all the photographer documentaries as I can and saw this a few years ago. Dorfman was a great personality and a great artist. Portraiture is art even if you're selling it.
posted by octothorpe at 8:43 AM on December 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I loved this so much, we watched it recently for a Movie Night. I've enjoyed Morris's other stuff and have been a fan of Dorfman's work for a long time. My folks were from that same Cambridge area so even though I grew up in the 'burbs a lot of it was familiar to me. I knew Dorfman had died recently and was curious to know more about her. I like how much of HER was in this movie, talking about her parents, interactions with her husband, not as much about their kid but I think that's kind of normal. She has such a huge body of work (kept a copy of every photo she took!!) I really hope the historical record is kind to her, II, too, loved how intensely feminist AND Jewish this movie was.
posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

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