The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

Director Errol Morris

A look at the life and work of photographer Elsa Dorfman.  A profile of celebrated portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, whose friends and subjects include Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.
Portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman found her medium in 1980: the larger-than-life Polaroid
Land 20×24 camera. For the next thirty-five years she captured the “surfaces” of those who visited her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio: families, Beat poets, rock stars, and Harvard notables. As pictures begin to fade and her retirement looms, Dorfman gives Errol Morris an inside tour of her backyard archive.

Errol Morris Gem ‘The B-Side’ Digs Into Polaroid Photographer Elsa Dorfman

By exploring large-format photographer Elsa Dorfman, Errol Morris could make her more famous and possibly save the 20×24 Polaroid format

Errol Morris is best known as an influential and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (“The Fog of War”), but he’s also a master of the short form who commands big bucks shooting commercials and episodic television. Then there’s the New York Times op-docs and essays, his many deep dives into photography and the bestsellers such as “Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography” and “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald.” However, none of this prepared me for his latest gem of a film,”The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography,” a gentle exploration of a woman who’s also one of Morris’ best friends.

Errol Morris explores Polaroid perfection in the trailer for The B-Side

Documentarian Errol Morris has something of an obsession with cameras, both as a tool of his trade and as a subject for his work. His 2010 documentary Tabloid derived much of its power from the lurid draw of the captured image, while 2008’s Standard Operating Procedure explored the Abu Ghraib prison scandal through the lens of the guards’ bizarre drive to photograph their abuses. Now, Morris is exploring the sweeter, more nostalgic side of snapping photos, releasing a trailer for his latest doc, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography.

Massachusetts-based Dorfman has spent nearly 50 years working as a photographer, capturing families, friends, and a number of influential Beat generation figures on her distinctive large-format Polaroid film—which has since been discontinued by the company, forcing Dorfman to delicately ration her remaining stock. The trailer shows Dorfman leading Morris’ own camera through decades of work, reflecting on her own drive for happiness and the human moments clients often reject in favor of more polished perfections. (Hence the B-Sides of the title.)

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