Don Scott's Polaroid journey leads to 'Transformative Impressions'

The artist's instant film prints, made using a combo of digital and analog techniques, are on display at the Highline Coffee Art Space in Worthington

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"Unexpected Evidence," Polaroid print by Don Scott

Back in the 1970s, in Don Scott’s hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, he began experimenting with Polaroid SX-70 cameras and film.

“I did what was called SX-70 manipulations, which meant when the picture came out of the camera, the emulsion in the film was very pliable. People compared it to the consistency of toothpaste. Over a period of about three or four hours, you had the ability to [manipulate it],” said Scott, who moved to Columbus in the late ’80s. “I used primarily knitting needles to make impressions on the picture and make it look very painterly. … I've always enjoyed taking a product that a company might design just for fun and enjoyment and turning it into an art form.” 

The original Polaroid company went bankrupt in the early 2000s, but since then, a Dutch photography company, which eventually rebranded with the original name, bought Polaroid’s production machinery and developed new instant film products. The resurrection of the medium piqued Scott’s interest. “It's again being marketed toward young people who just want to snap pictures and have fun,” he said, “but that's not how I'm using it.” 

In late 2019, Scott received a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) to make new work with Polaroid film. While this latest collection was originally slated for a showing in 2020, the pandemic pushed things back, which also gave Scott a longer window of time to experiment. Now, a series of Scott’s photographic pieces, titled “Transformative Impressions,” is on display at the Highline Coffee Art Space, where Scott formerly served as director. (Rebecca Burdock now directs the art space inside the Worthington coffee shop owned by Christie Bruffy; the café is open for carry-out.) 

More:Highline Coffee's Gallery Behind Glass

"Relevant Reversal," Polaroid print by Don Scott

This time around, Scott ditched the knitting needles for a computer, starting with a digital image, manipulating it, and then transferring it to the Polaroid film. The process didn’t initially work the way Scott had planned, but after some trial and error, the artist found a satisfying way to merge the digital and analog worlds. The process isn’t an exact science, and that’s partly the point. 

“I had to rethink how Polaroid film expresses itself. … Everything that comes out of the camera, it's one of a kind, and it's not as sharp as a digital image. There are lots of little variables that can happen depending on the temperature of the film, the age of the film,” Scott said. “You almost have to let the medium dictate some of the output, and you have to kind of let yourself go. You have an idea of what you want the image to look like based on what you see on a computer screen, but that's not necessarily the way it's going to come out on a Polaroid print. … I had to ask myself, do I want to try to make this ‘better,’ or do I want to let the quality of the Polaroid print be part of the process?” 

“Transformative Impressions,” like much of Scott’s work, takes inspiration from nature, which the artist traces back to his upbringing in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And while Columbus doesn’t have majestic mountain ranges, the city does have an abundance of Metro Parks that Scott regularly explores. Lately, during these outdoor treks, Scott has focused his lens on intimate woodland details that may otherwise go overlooked.

"Separated Togetherness," Polaroid print by Don Scott

“I want people to discover that they can look down really close to a plant or a bug or a flower or a leaf and find such intricate beauty in nature. It can be in your backyard; it can be in the park; it can be anywhere you go,” Scott said. “I used to take in the big picture. Now I'm taking in the small picture. I'm just trying to say, ‘Pay attention. Look, seek, discover.’”