Polaroids and pastries

Self-proclaimed “pretentious bores” undertake yummy photo documentary project

These Polaroid photos are part of photographer David Torch’s documentary of doughnut shops.

These Polaroid photos are part of photographer David Torch’s documentary of doughnut shops.

On a Sunday night, close to midnight, they pick me up. My mission: to experience the production of a unique photo documentary to record the artistic methods of photographer David Torch as he uses a Polaroid camera to capture the feel of a doughnut shop at 1 a.m.

Feeling inept at describing his own motivations, Torch brings along his articulate friend, Brad Bynum, to be his bombastic spokesman.

The excursion begins with a trip to Wal-Mart, where Torch buys Polaroid film—an expensive $10 for 10 exposures. The Ramones play “Sheena is a Punkrocker” on the radio as we drive.

We then head to Jelly Donut on Virginia Street, where Torch changes his shirt and his shoes before getting out of the car.

“He always changes his clothes,” Bynum notes. “He gets really obsessive about it, but it’s part of that obsessiveness that drives his artistic faculties.”

Torch buys the three of us pastries and Bynum, who has a conveniently unquenchable hunger for donuts, picks the most unappetizing one of the bunch, pink with blue and yellow sprinkles.

Although Torch’s intention is to portray the world of donuts from a neutral perspective, the Polaroid camera takes unflattering and out-of-focus pictures that would deter anyone from eating the fattening and frosted food.

The words “documentary” and “Polaroid” may both imply artistic passivity and a forfeiture of complete imaginative control, but Torch’s documentary has a definite agenda. In this documentary-style photography project, the doughnut shop becomes a diverse urban jungle and Torch becomes the biologist who encounters various species and records their lifestyle and diet preferences. The idea for the documentary was born when the Krispy Kreme on McCarran Boulevard and Kietzke Lane opened. Torch was suspicious of Reno’s reaction to the popular pastry shop.

“It made front page news,” he says. “It seemed to be filling a void that Reno had not been able to fill until its arrival. I was interested in documenting the Krispy Kreme phenomenon. And although the hype is past, I still like the idea of making a mundane historical document, recording where people were at a certain time and what doughnut they were eating.”

Torch had already previously spent 24 hours at Jelly Donut as a preliminary exercise to the main project. He took photos of strangers and friends, then blew the photos up. He put photos of a person and their chosen doughnut next to each other as diptychs on fine photo paper, then matted and framed them.

And the more he works with the doughnut theme, the more meaning it accumulates. He is now considering doing a project in which he compares Krispy Kreme to Jelly Donut. Bynum says that by labeling the project a documentary, Torch is detaching himself from the process and relinquishing responsibility of the project’s outcome.

“It’s more pretentious to be an artist with an agenda,” Torch says. “I’d rather just be a documentarian.”

“That’s a really pretentious thing to say,” Bynum tells Torch.

Then he turns to me.

“Can you just try and make us look cool?" he asks.