The Polaroid adventure is at the heart of the history of photography. It is its focal point: the passage from analog to digital. A captured moment is instantly rendered. Right then and there. Modernity demands instant images! The French-American designer and photographer Maripol, one of the bearers of the 1980s’ night club culture, dives into the city and pins its inhabitants with the lens of an SX70, a curious folding beast. Invented by Edwin H. Land, the camera created a new link between the subject and the photographer: now they can share the results live. They respond. They try again. A Polaroid is a living — and collective — work. New hordes blended genres and attitudes, art and style, despair and the joy of life. All they needed was a familiar hunter who would capture their mises-en-scène. Maripol was that hunter.
Every single of her Polaroids is first of all a story: the story of a relationship, of a game, of an emotion. And it’s lighthearted to boot! Underneath their fickle theatricality, Maripol’s photos conceal in plain sight the secret of an era, its eternity. She captured now-mythical faces that frequented Studio 54, the Mudd Club, and Dacenteria: Grace Jones, Deborah Harry, Jean-Michel Basquiat… Over all this work presides the guardian spirit of the guru, mentor, Maestro of masquerades, and friend Andy Warhol. We all know the drill: everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame. But that magic moment needed to be preserved, kept from vanishing. This is what Maripol’s work is all about: an archeology of the charm of bygone moments. “Moments lost in wonder never to come back,” sang Bryan Ferry.
If it was possible to capture these moments it was only thanks to the photographer’s emotional closeness to her subject as well as to the intimate relationship between those subjects and the Polaroid — an object of entertainment that invites them to move, to open up, happy-go-lucky. One only need to see the difference in their bearing when they find themselves faced with a box camera, that other picture object whose heavy mechanism compels them to introspection and immobility. In black and white. These are two complementary ways of looking and recording the life of a generation as it leaves the underground limbo to become a universal event.
Baudelaire is the inventor of urban poetry. His was a time when words were at the forefront and Nadar started to immortalize his contemporaries. The work of Maripol alchemically transmogrifies a lost time which has become legendary with the passing years. A gallery of The Flowers of Evil of a moment in history that is the basis of today’s aesthetic. A book of poems in the age of images. Women passing who stay forever. That’s our story.
Jean-Yves Pilet is a French writer who lives and works in Paris.