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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".

Legendary artist Joyce Tenneson recounts her look back at the Polaroid 20×24 images she created from the late 80’s through the early 2000’s. Exploring her archive once again has revealed images not chosen at the time of creation but that now have special meaning to her after this passage of time. These images will be collected in a new book and in an exhibit at Dowling Walsh Gallery at 365 Main Street, Rockland, Maine in July of 2016. John Reuter, who worked with Joyce to produce the images on the 20×24 camera interviews her for this intimate look at the “Unseen Polaroids”.

Florian Kaps, one of the founding members of the Impossible Project recalls a conversation he had with John Reuter in 2007. Dr. Kaps was interested then in producing a worldwide “final project” for 20×24 with the last 100 cases of film. John Reuter, Director of the 20×24 Studio had other plans. Reuter has kept the 20×24 Studio alive with film purchased from Polaroid just for the 20×24 cameras. That film is now running out and doc and John once again are discussing his plan from almost nine years ago.

The Polaroid Polacolor Image Transfer process was extremely popular among photographers and artists in the 1990s and 2000s.  Not many have seen Image Transfers as large as 5×6 feet.  John Reuter began making 20×24 Image Transfers in the early 1980s and expanded the format in 1987 with his first 9 panel transfers mounted on canvas spanning 62 by 72 inches.  Based on collage images in the pre-Photoshop era, these composites were transferred to watercolor paper and reworked with dry pigment, pastel and graphite.  The resulting pieces resembled fresco panels in their scale and surface qualities.   After creating several very large pieces he settled on the 4 panel format of 42×52 inches.  With Polacolor film still offered by the 20×24 Studio these type of multi-panel pieces are still possible to create.

Back in the early 2000s, before Polaroid began its slow final slide, some very interesting products were released. The square peel part format was reborn, and the most amazing film was Type 85 Positive/Negative. A square cousin to the revered Type 665, this film was the alternative photographer’s dream. Coupled with the Holga camera and Polaroid back, Type 85 provided beautiful negatives in a fun and easy to use form factor. As a marketing manager for Professional Products in the early 2000s I got a chance to shoot with Type 85 on many occasions, my favorite shoots occurring in Florida, Santa Fe, NM and California at Point Lobos. I never considered myself a landscape photographer and using a handheld plastic camera offered a strange perversity for me. The images seemed to demand being warmed toned to me, evoking an antiquity that belied their instant heritage.

From SX-70 to Impossible

Nearly 40 years ago I made my first images with a Polaroid SX-70 camera. Initially influenced by the imagery and technique of Lucas Samaras I pursued the surface manipulation that the integral film allowed. In the fall of 1975 I was shown a technique that offered me many more possibilities. Fellow graduate student Rick Valicenti demonstrated his “emulsion stripping” technique where one carefully removed the negative from the integral packet, revealing the positive image under a layer of titanium dioxide. On a light table one could make out the outline of the image and with a swivel knife carefully cut around details of an image. Portions could be kept and portions removed, leaving clear polyester in the open areas which could be filled with acrylic paint or collage imagery. All work was done from behind but when the image was viewed from the front it presented a smooth and continuous image. This allowed fantastic or surreal imagery to be presented in a container that belied the content presented. It was as if these surreal scenes ejected from the SX-70 camera untouched.
I later discovered an additional technique of “emulsion transfer” by soaking the film packet in warm water and floating the dyes out of one frame and placing them into another. The introduction of water caused the dyes to swell and contract, leaving artifacts that greatly resembled the textures of the reticulation process taught to me by Michael Teres in the early 70s.
Fast forward four decades later and SX-70 film is long gone and the technique I employed abandoned since the early 1980s. Impossible Project brings back instant integral film in 2009 and while it lacks the image quality of Polaroid’s SX-70 film it does possess some of the plastic characteristics of emulsion manipulation. The film exhibits a very narrow exposure latitude but coupled with the Impossible iPhone printer I was able to achieve the quality I once had with Polaroid materials. Calling on all forms of digital and analog technique I have combined Photoshop collages with paper collages and acrylic paint inside these familiar SX-70 frames. The Impossible materials respond the familiar “stripping” technique and the introduction of moisture will also create a reticulation effect in the image. I am please to present these in this alumni exhibition as an homage to my professor, Michael Teres.