A new exhibition reveals the magic of the celebrity Polaroid
Steven Klein is known for his glossy, poised photographs of the famous, but just as compelling are these previously unseen snaps from a time before Instagram
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a Polaroid speaks volumes. Before the digital age devalued the art of the candid snapshot to a commonplace, there was a certain romance attached to preserving the sort of intimate and informal moments that might otherwise be lost to time.
Ultimate Steven Klein, an exhibition of photographs that are auctioned on November 21, delves beyond the velvet rope on A-list shoots to unearth a few time-capsule shots from this less documented age. Behind the veneer of the photographer’s glossiest subjects and biggest budget shoots, Klein’s Instamatics present what we now might better know as “behind-the-scenes content”. Madonna, Prince, Brad Pitt, Claudia Schiffer — all captured in 18 never-before-seen Polaroids taken by the photographer himself on set.
Klein’s images offer a glimpse of the quieter realness before the professional exhibitionist or performer steps in to play their part. Mick Jagger, shirtless and testing a pose. Madonna in LA in 2002, her eyes closed in a gravity-defying backbend. The ever-omniscient David Bowie, captured surrounded by faux rubble in New York in 2003, is the only figure who seems preternaturally composed.
These days, these sorts of “backstage” shots tend to be every bit as stage-managed as the main event, often part of the package and mined for purposes of potential virality. From candid to content, the fourth wall has become more of a party wall: subject and viewer alike share the burden of pretending it is still there.
Those who remember a time when memories were stored in albums rather than the Cloud will know that back then taking a Polaroid was an event in itself: this exhibition feels like an invitation to the party.
Ultimate Steven Klein is at Phillips, 30 Berkeley Square, London W1, until November 21, 10am-6pm (Monday-Saturday) and 12-6pm (Sunday), phillips.com