The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (2017)
After college graduation, Elsa Dorfman (born 1937) worked as a secretary, and then as an elementary school teacher, when a friend loaned her a Hasselblad camera. She was twenty-eight, and knew nothing about cameras or photography. But in the mystery of history she thus found her life long vocation as a celebrated portrait photographer in her private studio. Dorfman was especially famous for her fervent devotion to the old school, large format Polaroid 20 X 24 camera, only six of which contraptions are left in the world. "I owe my life to the Polaroid," she says in this winsome 76-minute documentary by Errol Morris (The Fog of War). Morris lets Dorfman reminisce about her unlikely life and work that began with her selling her prints from a shopping cart in Harvard Square for $2. A significant part of her story includes her deep friendship and many photographs of the poet Allen Ginsberg. The title of the movie comes from Dorfman's practice of taking only two shots of her subjects because of the instant-developing Polaroid film. She then let her customers choose which shot they wanted, and she kept "the B side mistake," as she puts it. And what will become of her extensive archives that are a photographic feast at the center of this film? "I don't have a clue," she says. "Boston is full of photographers who worry about that." I watched this film on Amazon Streaming.