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Jose Picayo: 25 Years of Polaroids at Robin Rice Gallery

Art Scene

Jose Picayo: 25 Years of Polaroids at Robin Rice Gallery

The craft of photography has gone through many phases, each with their own unique visual qualities: the photogravure, the daguerreotype, the cyanotype, platinum prints, gelatin silver prints, chromogenic prints, digital c-prints, giclee prints, and inkjet prints, among others. However, for photographer Jose Picayo, a steadfast allegiance to Polaroid film has spanned decades.

Jose Picayo, Albert, 1994, 8″ x 10″ Polaroid

His current exhibition, Jose Picayo: 25 Years of Polaroids at Robin Rice Gallery, offers a gorgeously textured presentation of a variety of Polaroid images at varying sizes. The photographs all fall within a gentle color palette, ranging from blue hues and black and white to sepia tones and subtle color photography. The aged look of the photographs, sometimes intentional and at other times due to random occurrences, along with the color spectrum found in the work, creates a cohesive sense of sophistication and calm within the exhibition.

Jose Picayo, Bailey Palm, 2003, 8″ x 10″ Polaroid

The idea of chance and spontaneity are central to Picayo’s Polaroid work. His interests lie in capturing the beauty within a single moment in time, on film, and untouched by any digital or other post-production process. His motivations for this approach can be summed up in his belief that, “Digital is so overpoweringly real; photography is more magical to me.”

Jose Picayo, Gerri (Sailor), 1992, 8″ x 10″ Polaroid

Picayo was born in Cuba, moved to Puerto Rico as a child and ultimately planted roots in New York City. He began his professional and commercial career as a photographer in the 1980s after receiving a BFA from Parsons School of Design. In this exhibition, images from his oeuvre of personal work where he works exclusively with Polaroid film, are featured, including photographs of Cuba from 1994, fashion photography using Polaroid image transfers, tree portraits from a New Jersey public arboretum shot in 2012, 8” x 10” Polaroids from his series Mugshots2008, and, Rotating Doll, a 1997 multi-paneled piece made up of 20” x 24” polaroids.

Jose Picayo, Shell Test #2, 1996, 8″ x 10″ Polaroid

The warm color palette and salon-style installation of the work on view present a diverse array of portraits, still life photos of natural phenomena, and images from a collection of children’s dolls that Picayo compiled over several years. A strong sense of intimacy, and perhaps an animating presence, can be felt through many of the images. However, a sense privacy and mystery is also present; perhaps, an echo of the inaccessible authenticity of the singular moment experienced between a photographer and subject. In contrast, the Mugshotsseries humanizes the documentary, data-based purpose of the mugshot. A selection of 77 images from the series is presented in a 7 x 11 grid that features both a profile and direct facial shot of individuals across race, age and gender. The large quantity of images shines a light on the substantial difference between a person’s profile and a frontal view of their face, thereby giving Picayo’s subjects a sense of multidimensionality and personhood rarely found in a mugshot.

Jose Picayo: 25 Years of Polaroids is in view at Robin Rice Gallery through January 6, 2019.