How did you discover polaroid? Do you remember?
Billy: I was reading Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids,” about her formative years in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe. In it, she’s always encouraging Mapplethorpe to take pictures because she enjoyed his photography so much. In his heart though, Mapplethorpe always believed he was an illustrator. Well, we all know what happened when he finally committed to photography. I had gone to art school for painting, although I always had an interest in photography, filmmaking, and other mediums. I was getting frustrated with where my painting was going, and after reading “Just Kids” I started to consider that maybe I’d be a better photographer than a painter. It gave me the courage to give it a shot. So I ordered a Land Camera off of eBay and never looked back. In the almost 3 years of doing this, we’ve gotten more opportunities for exhibitions and commissions than I got in 10 years trying to make it as a painter. But it feels right. I’m a very nostalgic person. I love vinyl records and VHS tapes and outdated technology, so shooting with a Polaroid makes sense.
Bruce: Polaroids were a part of my childhood, which dates me a bit now, I guess. But those were the chunky plastic ones that spit the photo out to varying degrees of quality. Land Cameras and SX-70’s were not a part of my vernacular until I moved to San Francisco, and working with these older models was sort of a rediscovery of the Polaroid brand. When we were recent transplants to San Francisco, we were looking for a way to base a project around the city itself. It was kind of perfect timing delving into the new territory of shooting with Land Cameras and deciding on this project, because it was two muses, the Land Camera and the city of San Francisco, coming together.
How is it working together? How easy or difficult can it be?
Billy: We’ve been a couple for over 10 years and we’re both very creative people. I think we have a mutual respect for each other that makes working together very easy. We don’t always agree on what makes a great picture, but I think it’s our different perspectives that makes our photography stronger. We also love proving each other wrong.
Bruce: It’s a very healthy working relationship, actually. We’re quite competitive and both always want to come up with the best shot of the day for the site, but I think that competitive nature is beneficial as it pushes us to always do our best. I also think we come from different places creatively, which lends to a more balanced working dynamic. Billy is a visual artist first and I’m a musician and a writer. My photography tends to be more spontaneous whereas Billy is much more methodical and deliberate. He can visualize the photo before he takes it, I rely more on gut feeling.
You photograph a lot in the city. What does San Francisco mean to you?
Bruce: There are so many means of escape here, pockets to get lost in. You can spend countless afternoons alone doing things like wandering the abandoned batteries of the Presidio, scaling Bernal Hill, getting lost in the streets of the Tenderloin and so on. It can feel like a permanent vacation. But it’s also chock full of fascinating characters, some a little scary. It can often feel like living in a John Waters’ film, who coincidentally has a home here in Nob Hill.
Billy: We moved to San Francisco after we we started to feel displaced in New York. NYC as a place for creative people felt like more myth than reality, like you had to have money or know someone to do anything great. San Francisco felt the complete opposite, a place where anything goes that fostered creativity and unconventional ideas. And it was. I feel like this city embraced us just as much as we embraced it. We’ve grown as people so much since moving here and I’m sure have the spirit of this city to thank. It is a beautiful place with great people. But it is changing. The current tech boom is hard to ignore and you can feel it everywhere. Rents are out of control and many people are getting pushed out. I worry about starting to feel like I did in New York, that this city isn’t mine anymore.
What is your favourite polaroid camera and why?
Bruce: I’ve gone through a few favorites over the years for different reasons. My current favorite is “Felix,” a SX-70 Sonar One Step from the early 80’s. I bought him for a recent Polaroid installation we were commissioned to do. They wanted us to shoot exclusively with SX-70’s and I needed a solid camera that I could depend on for the project, and I’ve since fallen for Felix.
Billy: I used to have a Polaroid 250 Land Camera we called “Tank.” Some of the cheaper Land Cameras have plastic bodies and plastic lenses, but this model is all metal and glass. I feel like this is the camera I really learned to shoot on. Sadly, I drove it in to the ground. We’ve gone through a lot of cameras!
What other place have you been to that you would love to photograph and call home?
Billy: I love LA. I don’t care what anyone says. It has this great seedy side to it and then a side that caters to the rich and famous. It’s the perfect mix of ugly and beautiful. And it doesn’t seem to have the self-awareness that New York and San Francisco both have. If I ever wanted to disappear, that’s where I’d go.
Bruce: I think London may top that list at the moment. When I visited, I was enamored with the history of the city, the moody weather, the museums, the gothic architecture, just everything. The thing with Polaroids, though, is that they are very light dependent. So I don’t know how successful a day of shooting would be there given the overcast nature of the city.
What does an average day look like for you?
Bruce: In between our full time jobs, running the site, and various external projects surrounding Polaroid SF, we don’t have a ton of free time. But a good day is a sunny one with a couple good photos to show for it.
Billy: We’ve been posting one photo everyday since 9/12/11 so the first thing is that we always have to make sure a picture goes up on the site. It’s a funny contradiction to be so immersed in analog photography, yet you still have to be friends with technology. We try and squeeze in shooting whenever we can. We’ll often look at a map of the city and pick a neighborhood to go to just because we haven’t been there in a while.
Interview by Amanda M. Jansson