John Messinger is an accomplished photographer hailing from Brooklyn. After completing his studies in photojournalism at Boston University, he went on to study fine art photography at the esteemed School of Visual Arts. After graduation, he bought a van and decided to drive cross-country with his polaroid camera. The trip shifted his focus and gave birth to his impressive polaroid tapestries. Each large-scale work is composed of individual 3.25″ x 4.25″ Fuji instant photographs. The works carry visual and contextual depth.

The simple repetition of similar images gives a distinct meditative flair to the pieces. In addition to the visual interest of the works, Messinger provides extensive contextual background. An obvious master craftsman, he dives deep into the social impact of technological advances in photography.

We sat down with Messinger to explore his inspiration and creative process.


BS: What goes into the creation of one of your pieces?

JM: Well to put it simply, I photograph large computer monitors using a Polaroid Land camera and Fuji instant film. What I’m photographing on the screen usually varies depending on what I’m looking at and thinking about. I’ve photographed everything from screensavers, to the hillside that lies to the left of the most photographed barn in America, to Instagram photos, to my own Facebook profile photo. I then lay out the hundreds, sometimes thousands of instant photos on a large table, and over the course of weeks, sometimes months, undergo a process of arranging and rearranging the images into large-scale compositions. When the composition is complete, I turn the images over and begin taping them together, edge to edge, which ultimately unifies the hundreds of individual photos into one larger 3-dimensional object, a grid.

BS: Why polaroids?

JM: I’m not sure there’s just one reason, and on some level I like leaving that question for the viewer to think about. But I’ll try to speak to a few of the reasons. On a material level, I love the colors that it produces, and the 3.25 x 4.25 dimension, and the perfect white border. But I’m guessing you want more than that… I’ve always been drawn to art work that’s comprised of contrasting forces, opposites. So in this case, I find it fascinating to record digital photographs using a chemical, analog technology. The Polaroid in this context, because it’s a positive without a negative, creates tension. For me, something strange and beautiful occurs when I think about each frame being an intrinsically unique object, even when it’s a recording of a digital photograph which ultimately can and will be endlessly duplicated. I like making something in the digital age that is a photograph, but can never be duplicated. Each work is one of one, just like us. On some level, the interaction between the digital screen and the chemical Polaroid is the same to me as human beings and our infinite interactions with technology. What else… I’m also interested in the grids as sculptural objects, a process that returns the image to a three-dimensional, tactile thing, which is something that we rarely do in the 21st-century. Sometimes I think about the opposing forces more simply: digital vs. analog. singularity vs. multiplicity. An original vs. a copy. 2-d vs. 3-d. A projection vs. an object. An antiquated tool vs. modern technology. Sorry for rambling… I guess we can leave that there for now.



BS: Talk to me about your view on digital photography, social media and the changing role of photography in our culture.

JM: I’m not sure I have any one view of digital photography in the digital age. I’d say more than anything that I have a lot of questions, and I’m fascinated to see how the medium of photography has evolved in recent years, and how we as humans have evolved in turn. I mean, I think it would be fair to say that along with inventions like the Gutenberg press and the internet, it’s important to include the photograph as one of the most significant social inventions in human history. I also think that it’s important to consider the fact that more photographs were made in 2013 throughout the world than in all other years since the camera was invented. That’s a lot of photos. So with my work I like to look at and think about why we make the photos that we make, and how we use those photos, and how those photos ultimately help shape our perception of reality and, in turn, our perceptions of ourselves.



Messinger will be debuting his first solo show this fall at UNIX Gallery. All photos courtesy of the artist. For more information, please visit his website.