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  • John Reuter Biography

    JOHN REUTER has been a photographer since the early 1970s, majoring in Art while attending SUNY Geneseo. He continued his studies on the graduate level at the University of Iowa, receiving two master’s degrees. It was there that he began to specialize in Polaroid materials, most notably his SX-70 constructions, combining photography with painting and collage. Reuter joined Polaroid Corporation in 1978 as senior photographer and later Director of the legendary 20x24 Studio. His own work evolved through large scale Polacolor Image Transfers to digital imaging in the mid 1990’s. He has taught workshops in Photoshop, Lightroom, Polaroid materials and encaustic painting around the world. In recent years Reuter has moved into video and filmmaking and is currently working on a feature length documentary titled "Camera Ready: The Polaroid 20x24 Project".

    John is currently a part time faculty member at the University of Hartford in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Hartford Art School. He teaches courses in in analog and digital photography as well as cinema studies.

Polaroid Now: The History and Future of Polaroid Photography Hardcover – July 27, 2021
by Steve Crist (Author), Oskar Smolokowski (Contributor), John Reuter (Contributor)

Polaroid Now celebrates new work created by contemporary artists working with Polaroid cameras and film today, and discusses the history, and evolution of the first instant imaging camera system that became a household name.

This curated selection of images is diverse aesthetically and geographically, and embraces the world-wide community of Polaroid artists. The book celebrates the unique, one-of-a-kind, and instantly gratifying qualities of Polaroid imagery. Additionally, Polaroid photographs by renowned luminaries such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Chuck Close are included, as well a section on the 20×24 Polaroid camera.

• The cover of the book features a design that is an homage to the vintage Polaroid Colorpack Film boxes.
• The edges of the book are gilded in silver, reminiscent of Polaroid’s classic silver packaging.
• The book features over 200 photographic images that explore the inherent beauty and possibilities of Polaroid film, as created by Polaroid artists from around the world.
• An index features popular Polaroid cameras that are still available and used today.

This officially licensed partnership with this world-renowned brand is the most comprehensive book published on Polaroid, and includes an essay by Polaroid’s CEO Oskar Smolokowski and John Reuter, Director of the 20×24 Studio.



It is always a challenge to distill a full film into a trailer or five minute summation. In this edit I wanted to show both the artists and Polaroid individuals who are key to the story. I chose longer passages of fewer subjects rather than several second snapshots of more people. The final film will draw for as many as 25 interviews.
I have included a brief montage of historical footage with my brief narration. I have included the key artists William Wegman (who also is the figure in the opening with the dogs on the road in Rangeley, Maine), Chuck Close, Joyce Tenneson and Elsa Dorfman. Polaroid is represented by JoAnn Verburg and Eelco Wolf (who was my first artistic sponsor long before I worked for Polaroid). We close with the writer and critic A.D. Coleman, who has written extensively on Polaroid in his career and was a fierce critic of the sale of the Polaroid Collection in 2010 after the Polaroid bankruptcy.

This is a solo exhibition in the Community Gallery of Polaroid Possibilities: The Art & Photography of John Reuter. This exhibitions presents John’s innovative and experimental work with Polaroid materials. The work included surveys John’s SX-70 Constructions, Polacolor Image Transfers and his work with the Polaroid 20×24 Camera. Polaroid Possibilities will be presented concurrently with Dare alle Luce by Ralph Mercer. 

Polaroid Possibilities – The Art & Photography of John Reuter
On View:
 Thursday, April 18 thru Friday May 10th, 2019
Open Reception: April 18, 2019, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., part of Gallery Night Providence


About the Work:

The SX-70 work, which deconstructed the film packet to introduce painted and collage elements was the first major body of work John created with Polaroid materials. Seeking a new format Reuter began working with Polacolor II peel-apart film to create images with the “image transfer process”.  This process allowed the dyes from the film negative to be transferred on to watercolor paper in lieu of the glossy Polacolor positive.  These transfers became a starting point for a process of hand reworking that enhanced or transformed the image using retouching dyes, watercolor, pastel and dry pigment.  Larger works became possible with the Polacolor material which was available in 8×10, 20×24 and multiple 20×24 panels to create works up to 40×50 inches.

About: John Reuter

John Reuter started his professional career as a Polaroid research photographer becoming the main photographer in the Polaroid 20×24 Studio in 1980.  The New York studio John ran was a key part of the Polaroid Artist Support Program and afforded him the opportunity to work with artists William Wegman, Chuck Close, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellen Carey among others.

John worked for Polaroid as a master photographer, lighting technician and ambassador. He was responsible for making the Polaroid materials and the work of other artists look their best. With inside access to new materials, the scientists, technicians and the resources of the corporation his personal work, exhibited here, continued to follow a divergent path started down in college. His work employs a hand crafted esthetic not expected from a talented technical photographer and contrary to how instant photography is typically perceived. His work combines photography and painting to create images one might think lifted from the pages of an art history textbook.

Reuter remains the Director of the 20×24 Studio and is also an adjunct professor of photography at the Hartford Art School. The camera and original Polaroid film remain viable and are still available for artists and photographers to use through the 20×24 Studio.


Exhibition: Thursday, April 18th thru Friday, May 10th
Opening Reception: April 18, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., part of Gallery Night Providence
On View: April 18 – May 10th, 2019

John Reuter’s mixed media images abstract the environments and subjects contained within each frame to such a degree that they could be interpreted as surrealist paintings. Pushed aside are notions of photography as a medium of truth and reality. The viewer is invited into a realm where the Polaroid is deconstructed and paint, pastels or other images are collaged beneath the emulsion’s surface which is then positioned carefully back into place to assume the classic Polaroid aesthetic.

Reuter explains how his process began; “In the fall of 1975 I entered the MA program at the University of Iowa to study with John Schulze. My work then was primarily experimental black and white processes from solarization to reticulation and composite printing. My influences were experimental photographers such as Man Ray, Todd Walker, Herbert Bayer and Jerry Uelsmann. Equally important were the influences of painters such as Rene Magritte, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon. At a studio shoot arranged by the students I brought the SX-70 camera in addition to my 35 mm equipment. A fellow grad student, Rick Valencenti also had an SX-70 camera and told me about a stripping technique he was using to take apart his images, remove some of the emulsion and replace it with paint or collage elements. That to me was a revelation and I quickly abandoned my surface manipulated SX-70s in favor of what I would refer to as “emulsion stripping”. In a short time, this became my primary means of image making. Having combined alternative process photographs with paint for several years prior it was a natural to replace the SX-70 removed sections with acrylic paint, ink drawing and collage elements. The true beauty of the process is that it was all done from behind, leaving the SX-70 frame intact and from the front it appeared as if it was a normal SX-70 photograph. For me this was part of the aesthetic, this perfect consumer photographic process generating these surrealist scenes as apparent instant moments. It fit well with my belief that photography was a mythic medium and that its verisimilitude was an illusion.”

Curator Barbara Hitchcock elaborates on Reuters work;“Shadows and Traces: The Photography of John Reuter” celebrates the artist’s innovative exploration of film technology, photography and painting coupled with his imaginative reinterpretation of people, places and things that have populated the real world. Reuter reinvents the past, stimulates our imagination, and encourages us to enjoy this flight into a familiar, yet somewhat unconventional, alternative universe.

Born in Chicago and raised in California and New York, Reuter went on to receive his Bachelors of art from State University College of New York at Geneseo. He also received his Masters of Arts and Masters of Fine Arts from University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. In 2014 he made a documentary film, ‘Camera Ready: The Polaroid 20×24” project which chronicles the history of the Polaroid. Reuter currently is the director at 20×24 Studio and teaches at Hartford Art School. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions of his work and taught workshops for the International Center of Photography and Palm Beach Photographic Center. Aperture, Henry Horenstein, the International Polaroid Collection of Cambridge, MA, and more have published Reuter.

John Reuter: Shadows and Traces

January 10th– March 3rd

Griffin Museum of Photography

67 Shore Road, Winchester MA 01890

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One of the more interesting aspects of putting together the Collaborations and Investigations exhibit is how it has challenged me to consider my working relationship with those I work with.  For so many years I have insisted on keeping it separate, perhaps as much to protect myself as it is to avoid acknowledging how much of me there might be in my client’s work.  It has always been impossible to compete with the totality of my 20×24 collaborations, it is what it must be like to be the “unknown Beatle”.  And yet while my client work has been all over the place aesthetically and technically, my own work has managed to pursue a consistent path, albeit slowly and at times haltingly.
Much of my aesthetic was determined quite early in my career.  Studying with Michael Teres at the State University College of New York at Geneseo, I was greatly influenced by his open approach to photography. Michael believed that photography was like any two-dimensional medium, subject to manipulation and transformation.  My earliest work explored the transformative aspect of photography working primarily with the figure.  An equal influence was the philosophy of Michael’s wife, Rosemary Teres. Rosemary taught painting and art history at Geneseo and it was through her that I developed my combination of painting and photography.  She also influenced me in seeking the “mythic reality” populated by a “hero” character.  The notion of the hero (or heroine) is a constant in art history but one perhaps diminished in the era of minimalism and conceptualism when I began in the early seventies.  In those schools of thought the artist remained the hero by decrying the purity of thought and execution but the notion of the hero was banished from the content of the work.  So I began my journey against the tide of thought but it allowed me the freedom to pursue my own vision without much regard for whether I was current or not. I usually regard the birth of my present day work to reside in my SX-70s from 1975 to 1980.  I was given a Polaroid SX-70 in late 1974 and my work was never the same.  I  was able to achieve in it the control over context and character relationships that I could only touch on in my black and white work.  Combinations of painting and photography which I had hinted at  previously came into full fruition in  these  reconstructed  SX-70s.  These pieces were actually photomontages contained within the  frame  of  an  SX-70 – “instant” image.  While  they  were  anything  but  instant  they actually played off the notion of immediate feedback.  It was here that I learned to work intuitively with the process and go with what chance would give me.  I was never certain about the narrative path an image would take in advance, it was always determined in process.  One sort of manipulation would yield an expression in a face that would then determine the colors or collage pieces to go with the central figure.  If I were to repeat the  image  with  the  same  elements  again  it  would invariably come out differently.  It set me up to create images  by   assembling  the  elements  and  then learning from their juxtaposition where the essence of the image would lie.  It is a methodology I have used ever since.