Thursday, July 20, 2017

Errol Morris's tribute to a photographer

Director Errol Morris (The Blue Line, The Fog of War) turns his keen attention to Elsa Dorfman, a portrait photographer living in Cambridge, Mass. Set almost entirely in Dorfman's studio, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography allows the 80-year-old photographer to review her work. She discusses both the famous and ordinary people who stood before her camera of choice, a large-scale Polaroid the size of a small shed. With the special camera no longer available to her -- the original Polaroid company has been dismantled -- Dorfman decided to put the lens cap on her career. Her retirement provides Morris with occasion to review Dorfman's life as a photographer and her relationship with some of her subjects, most notably poet Allen Ginsberg. Dorfman famously photographed Ginsberg in a suit and, then, sans clothing in the same pose. Merely by focusing his attention on Dorfman, Morris honors the easy-going artistry of a career that spanned from 1965 to the present. Initially, Dorfman sold her photos on the streets of Cambridge for $25 a piece. She always made two versions of her 20X24 inch prints, allowing the subject to select one. Dorfman kept the other, marveling at the fact that subjects often selected her least favorite of the two choices. Dorfman's literary connections began when she met Ginsberg as a secretary at a New York publishing house and continued to develop through contacts made at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square. B-Side may not rank with Morris' best films, but it stands as an introduction to Dorfman's approach and work. Think of it as a revealing miniature about a woman who made very large photographs.

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