The title of Dane Haman’s upcoming exhibition Black Box refers to a Polaroid instant film camera—those now antiquated, pre-digital cameras that would, a few seconds after clicking a button, spit out a unique photograph created within the camera.
“It’s this mysterious square,” says Haman. “There’s an element of magic to it that I can’t deny, and totally excites me.”
The magic is in the way the camera is able to instantly create a unique object, a single print, a rarity in today’s world where digital images are recreated ad nauseam. For Haman, the fact that every Polaroid is unique, paired with the fact that the Polaroid company is no longer producing instant film, means that every shot is “sacred.” (Other companies produce instant film, but Haman says, “It’s just not the same.”)
For Black Box, Haman sifted through an archive of hundreds of Polaroids, mostly dating between 2005 and 2010, and selected 24 pairs of shots that connect in interesting ways and framed them together. There’s a shot of a parked cop car paired with a dynamic image of skateboarders racing down the street. There’s a pair of shots of crossed legs. There’s a musician onstage playing guitar, paired with a guy holding a loaf of bread in a suggestive manner. There’s a shot of a cat across the room, then a closer image of the cat looking at the first Polaroid. There’s a seagull in flight paired with a sign featuring a fake seagull in nearly the exact same position. There’s a pile of stuffed animals with oversized plastic eyeballs staring into the camera with creepy, uncanny gazes, paired with an image of a security camera.
Some of the images are paired together for aesthetic reasons—similar color palettes or shapes—some depict narratives or similar subjects. Each pair connects in a different way, and one variation, the 25th, is a four-piece, a proves-the-rule exception.
“Part of the fun of a show like this is that you go on this quest to make connections,” says Haman. “Some you get immediately. Some are more coded, very vague. I had specific ideas, but the meaning is up to you, looking at the work.”
Investigating possible interpretations and discovering intellectual connections within photographs in a gallery-like setting runs contrary to how many people most often experience photographs nowadays, scrolling quickly and superficially through digital images on Instagram or Facebook.
For Haman, that’s exactly why art shows like Black Box are important—to inspire viewers to rethink their preconceptions about images and to note the value of photographs as art objects.
He’s from Wisconsin and moved to Reno in September 2011. He shoots concerts and other events for the Holland Project, and publishes a skateboarding zine called Sproink. Skateboarding was his gateway into photography.
“Skateboarding begs to be photographed,” he says. “It’s too exciting, interesting and strange not to be documented.”
Though the exhibition is titled Black Box, none of the individual photographs or framed pairs in the show have titles.
“Pairing them up is enough of a guide, enough of a suggestion,” says Haman. “That’s enough of an entry point, but it should be mysterious. You don’t want to beat people over the head.”