Polaroid moments at Bows & Arrows

Photo By PHOTO BY Justin short

Bows & Arrows

1815 19th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 822-5668


It’s been years since Corine St. Ofle purchased her first Polaroid instant camera in a thrift store. In the time since, what was once a casual hobby developed into a passionate endeavor to capture something fleeting—particularly in 2008, after Polaroid stopped production on its iconic instant film.

St. Ofle’s More Polaroids About People and Buildings opens February 11, at Bows & Arrows (1815 19th Street) as part of the gallery’s ongoing “Bathroom Series.” The exhibition explores people and structures in Sacramento, as well as far-flung locales such as Paris and Madrid. In this age of digital photography, St. Ofle says her choice of a dying medium not only records images of life at home or travels abroad, but gives life to a romanticized notion of faded, yet indelible, memories.

How did the idea for the show come about?

It started four years ago when [the Verge Center for the Arts] held the Doug Biggert show. I’d been taking Polaroids already, and when I saw his show of Polaroid art, it blew my mind. I thought you couldn’t do a show like that! Polaroids are small; it’s so hard for people to look at something so small, but then I saw that show, and I was completely amazed.

Why did you start taking these pictures?

I found a Polaroid at a thrift store for $1.99, and it became my favorite camera. It’s so funny to do a show today with Polaroids; the show truly comes after the fact. At the time I took the photos, I thought they looked amazing, but I never thought [I’d do a show].

When were they taken?

A lot of the photos were taken in 2008 when I was traveling in Paris and Madrid and getting film there was so difficult. I found the last few packs of Polaroid film in stores there. Of course, when you’re traveling, that’s when you have this impulse to take photos. Everything looks fresh and new, and you have things in front of your eyes that you want to take photos of.

The dwindling supply of film must have added an element of urgency.

It did. Actually, I was having such a difficult time in my personal life then. I’d just graduated university and then doing these Polaroids, running out of film. Life is so tragic—of course it’s ridiculous, compared to other people’s woes—but in the middle of it you think, “Oh no, what’s happening to me? Everything is running out.” It’s tragic, but when it ends it ends, and I hope I’ve taken photos of it all.

Was it difficult deciding what to actually shoot?

It’s just such a snap decision. [I’d think] if I’m not going to truly be able to take the picture that I want, then I’m not even going to try. But if I thought it was doable, then I’d have to make the decision right then. Is the light good enough? Is the angle right?

How many pictures did you take?

At the time I was buying the packs, I didn’t even count, but they come in packs of 10 [pictures], and I have about 100 packs just from that summer. I’d just go and grab them if I found them in stores. … Even just looking for the film became part of the process. It made it a joy, taking the pictures—just the whole thing, really. The relationship of opening the package and putting the film in the camera and then having the first piece of film come out—everything about the experience was so amazing. … When something you love is about to go away, you love it so much more.

Do you have any film left?

I have some old [expired] packages, and then I have some newer film; I just have one package. At this point, I don’t want to waste it.

What are some of your favorite pictures in the series?

When you shoot in packs of 10, then the photos are linked in some kind of brotherhood. My favorite series was taken in May 2009 when I was about seven months pregnant. I’d participated in a [march] to the [state] Capitol for gay rights. Everything was so beautiful, and all the pictures turned out so amazing, but there is one, taken of just two men in an embrace. … That’s one of my favorites [but] the original won’t be in the show [because] I dedicated it to my son. I can’t part with it.

Are you making copies of any of the Polaroids?

The ones in the show, yes. If they end up going somewhere, I want to have a memory of them. But the ones I keep for myself, no. I like the idea of growing old with them. I know they will fade away. I hope I will be old one day, and I hope I will try to remember their colors.