Louisville Photo Biennial
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
Directed by Errol Morris
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“An enjoyable, but also profound movie.” —Glenn Kenny, New York Times
Elsa Dorfman is a master practitioner of a rare photographic format: the large-size Polaroid 20″ x 24″ camera. For three decades in her studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she took thousands of portraits, including those of accomplished friends like poet Allen Ginsberg and singer Jonathan Richman. Now in her late seventies, she opens her archives and her memories for this documentary by her long-time friend, director Errol Morris. Rather than using his trademark Interrotron camera, which compels subjects to stare into his lens, he interviews her roaming freely, leafing through photos in her studio.
In her thick Boston accent, Dorfman describes herself as “a nice Jewish girl” who started in publishing and grew close to the leading Beat poets. At age 28 she took up photography, taking memorable pictures of authors, poets, and musicians including Bob Dylan. She eventually gained access to one of Polaroid’s few large-format cameras. “My style of photography is very literary,” she says, “influenced by Ginsberg’s poetry in the acceptance of detail, everydayness.” For her portrait clients, she took two pictures. The client got one and she kept “the B-side.” 2016, U.S., DCP, 76 minutes. Rated R.
With Morris’ short documentary film The Umbrella Man. 2011, U.S., video, 7 minutes.