The Ravestijn Gallery’s exhibition ‘Mr. Polaroid’ by Ferry Van der Nat is a playful exploration of the nude form and its transformative nature under the spell of the instant camera.
Van der Nat worked for many years as a make-up artist and began to document his surroundings through Polaroid shots. Recently his approach has evolved into a more formal and sustained engagement with this flexible medium, and ‘Mr. Polaroid ’ showcases the exciting middle ground between backstage and the studio. The resulting images are a focused yet suggestive moment in time, pushing the viewer to confront sexuality head-on.
Van der Nat works with two cameras, each with particular technical features and cultural importance. The 1965 Polaroid Land Camera 103 sheds a greenish blue tint across the prints, seeming to distill an aura and mystery around the subjects. The second camera, the Polaroid Big Shot from 1975, is famously the same model used by Andy Warhol as he produced some of his most overtly sexual images—a mood that inspires Van der Nat’s own project. The camera’s bulky construction means the photographer stands at a physical distance from his subjects, while the photograph is nonetheless quite intimate.
This collection certainly pushes the viewer into uncomfortable territory. A sense of constricted space is created by the large size of the prints; as if the viewer were frozen at eyelevel somewhere between the camera apparatus and the naked subject themselves. Van der Nat experiments with gay cultural stereotypes, amplifying them in number to a nearly exhibitionist degree. But who is the exhibitionist? The subject or the photographer?
‘Mr. Polaroid’ compares the face, full of erotic potential, with the straightforward, unflinching depictions of the nude lower-body. While Van der Nat’s subjects stare down the camera, inviting the viewer to return the gaze, the more private and most sexual images become anonymous, even objective through an emphasis on shadow, contour and frontal framing. ‘Mr. Polaroid’ captures the smallest details over and over again: patterns of hair growth, the curve of the thigh or buttock, a chiseled jaw and sulking eyes, and yet through his artful timing, Van der Nat balances between moments of humor and drama.