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Book Review: Found Polaroids by Kyler Zeleny

Found Polaroids is a collection of the best stories from the Found Polaroid Project, a personal archive of over 6,000 orphaned images collected since 2011. The concept behind the project is simple, to breathe new life into long-forgotten images by asking creative minds to write stories about them.

Eerily distant yet warmly familiar, the stories, and the Polaroids that inspired them, have a way of not only transporting us to a different time but also into the intimate lives of complete strangers. By exploring a colorful range of narratives and emotions, these images allow us to glimpse into a fictional, but paradoxically universal, reality that can only be found through storytelling. The short stories in the project are contributions from a dynamic online community of writers, photographers and artists. The stories have been published via the website and social media channels of Found Polaroids, and the book is a selection from those submissions.

More than simply for storytelling, the project has also become a platform to advocate and explore the cultural importance of found and material photography as well as the iconic Polaroid. This is addressed in the book by essays from Found Polaroid’s founder Kyler Zeleny, as well as Dr. Peter Buse and a preface by Dr. Lisa Jaye Young.

For me personally, the white border, the classic square format of the SX-70 Polaroid print, and the occasional written note at the bottom of the print, always made me feel I was witness to something deeply personal and private. There is no photo lab technician who would see these images; no shame picking up the prints from the lab, no explanation needed. It didn’t matter if it was Uncle David shooting pool while cradling the dog and a beer, or Auntie Kate sitting on the couch just staring off into the distance, or someone’s bare ass at a forbidden pool party. These images are quick and dirty and intimate. Because Found Polaroids is culled from a collection of found images, and invented backstories, the book gives the project even more intrigue. Discarded ephemera like photographs and handwritten personal notes evoke a mysterious sense of the past.

Dr. Peter Buse speaks to this topic in the book. “All photographs, not just Polaroids, are enigmatic, mute. They are almost always accompanied by a caption or a narrative, explaining what we see. In the absence of such a text, a photograph harbors secrets, holding the promise that it will disclose them under the right gaze. The stories in this book unfold the secrets of their Polaroids, but by openly proclaiming themselves fictions, they carefully and paradoxically preserve the secret of each image. It is not the truth of each Polaroid that is revealed, but its potential.”

Found Polaroids
by Kyler Zeleny
7 x 9, 96 pages,
Perfect Bound
Edition Size 500
ISBN : 978-1-944005-13-9
Published by: Aint–Bad

To order a copy of Found Polaroids, please visit the site for Ain’t-Bad here. To view the project, please visit www.foundpolaroids.com

Also published on Medium.

About Cary Benbow

Photographer, Writer, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine

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