The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
2016, 76 minutes
Director: Errol Morris
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.
In The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, Errol Morris explores the life of a gifted analog photographer facing a digital present. Dorfman, with whimsical charm and wit, gives her longtime friend a tour of her backyard garage-turned-archive.
Dorfman pulls out portraits one by one and holds them up for Morris—for the first time in recent years without his trademark Interrotron. The result is a surreal show-and-tell, as Dorfman shares the stories behind her photographs and her spontaneous musings on life. “I think one thing about having all the pictures,” she says, “is you sort of search for the narrative. But there probably is no narrative. It’s just what happened. It doesn’t go by a script.”
The B-Side is a loving portrait of a unique artist too often overlooked in considerations of 20th century photography. It revels in the intimate beauty of Dorfman’s portraits and in her singular appreciation for the ordinary aspects of human life. As photographs begin to fade and Dorfman’s retirement looms, Morris’s film reminds us of a bygone era of analog photography and the extraordinary life of one of its champions.