The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Errol Morris indulges his long-standing interest in photographic method with this slight but agreeable profile of portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who made a big name for herself with large-format Polaroid photography but chose to retire after the company discontinued the film in 2008. Associated with Grove Press in the 60s, Dorfman took up photography in the mid-70s and shot numerous black-and-white images of literary and musical icons (Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jorge Luis Borges, Anaïs Nin, Anne Sexton, Audre Lorde, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Jonathan Richman). But the Polaroid portraits she began taking in 1980, captured in fluorescent tones on 20-by-24-inch film, brought out a new sense of color and artifice in her work. “I’m totally not interested in capturing their souls,” she tells Morris. “I’m only interested in how they seem.” To judge from this chatty, fleetly edited film, Morris feels the same way about her, but her story does illustrate the dilemma of an artist dependent on a corporation for her materials.