The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Errol MorrisUSA76 minutes2016PGColourEnglish

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Errol Morris (The Fog of War) profiles legendary photographer Elsa Dorfman, whose subjects have included such friends as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Jonathan Richman.

Elsa Dorfman is a master practitioner of a rare photographic format: the large-size Polaroid 20" x 24" camera. For three decades in her studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she took thousands of portraits, including those of accomplished friends like poet Allen Ginsberg and singer Jonathan Richman. Now in her late seventies, she opens her archives and her memories for this documentary by her long-time friend, Errol Morris.

Known for his profiles of morally challenged men in The Fog of War and The Unknown Known, Morris brings a different tone in The B-Side. He has clear affection for Dorfman. Rather than using his trademark Interrotron camera, which compels subjects to stare into his lens, he interviews her roaming freely, leafing through photos in her studio.

In her Boston accent, Dorfman describes herself as "a nice Jewish girl" who started in publishing and grew close to the leading Beat poets. At age 28 she took up photography, taking memorable pictures of authors, poets, and musicians — including Bob Dylan. She eventually gained access to one of Polaroid's few large-format cameras. "My style of photography is very literary," she says, "influenced by Ginsberg's poetry in the acceptance of detail, everydayness. What you're wearing is okay and who you are is okay. You don't have to be cosmeticized." For her portrait clients, she took two pictures. The client got one and she kept "the B-side." For music fans, the B-sides of vinyl singles had a reputation for being unpredictable and extra precious. The same can be said for Morris' touching portrait of Dorfman.

THOM POWERS

AgingBiographyFemale ExperienceArt + DesignHistoryDocumentary