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date: 08 December 2019

Dorfman, Elsalocked

(b Cambridge, MA, April 26, 1937).
  • Mary Panzer


(b Cambridge, MA, April 26, 1937).

American photographer and writer. After attending university in the Boston area, she worked in New York at Grove Press, arranging readings for poets such as Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg. Dorfman eventually settled in Cambridge, MA, a centre of intellectual alternative culture, where her friend George Cope taught her to use a camera in 1965. She began making portraits of literary figures with a 35mm camera and black-and-white film, supporting herself as a freelance editor. In 1973–4, as a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College, she produced a memoir with photographs titled Elsa’s Housebook, now considered a feminist classic.

In 1980 the Polaroid Corporation gave Dorfman and a number of other artists access to the experimental 20×24 instant camera, named for the size of the image it produced (in inches). Beginning in 1987 Dorfman rented a 20×24 from Polaroid and worked in colour. Over the next two and half decades Dorfman developed a style that combined the camera’s formal characteristics with her own ability as a writer and an artist to identify universal qualities in the most personal stories. She photographed some families more than once, and produced extended portraits of Allen Ginsberg, her husband, her son and his friends, and herself. In the 1990s she became one of the first photographers to establish a website, using it as exhibition space and archive for her photographs, books, essays, films, and reviews of her work. After the Polaroid Corporation collapsed in the early 21st century, she helped lead a movement to establish an independent company to support the 20×24 instant camera....

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