Richard Kern’s mesmerising Polaroids from the 80s and 90s

Off the success of his East Village exhibition last year, the photographer publishes a book of his rarely seen Polaroids

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Richard Kern’s Polarized
From PolarizedPhotography Richard Kern, courtesy Fortnight Institute and Victoria Press

Last August, Richard Kern shared a series of unseen Polaroids from the 80s and 90s in an exhibition titled Polarised. Hosted at New York’s Fortnight Institute, the show took place a stone’s throw from Kern’s East Village studio where most of the images were taken. Now the photographer has allowed the work to go global as he releases a new book of the same name.

The images are a time warp back to Kern’s early career, where he published experimental, stapled together zines such as “The Heroin Addict” and “The Valium Addict” and provided a candid and unaltered look onto New York’s creative peak. “Digital photography eliminated the need to (take) a polaroid test shot. Pros used Polaroids to instantly see what the light setup looked like”, explained Kern, when we asked him why he was only showing Polaroids from this period. “Now using Polaroid as a medium is to me like someone using film, it’s done only to add an effect to a photograph. It’s like recording music on analog tapes and releasing it on vinyl. It's like shooting in colour digital, turning off the colour and calling it a black and white photo. it's like adding a filter to your photos on Instagram.”

The book features Polaroids ranging from blue skies and skyscraper silhouettes to moments of models in-between shots. Polarized brings a new magic to Kern’s work that we are already familiar with; a period where he made a name for himself shooting music videos for Sonic Youth’s “Death Vallery ‘89” and Marilyn Manson’s “Lunchbox”, as well as for sex mags, avant-garde publications, and portraits of East Village actors, writers and artists such as Lung Leg, Lydia Lunch, and David Wojnarowicz.

Polarized was released at the LA Art Book Fair and is published in collaboration with Fortnight Gallery and Victoria Press

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