Instants: Linda Lindroth’s Polaroid Portraits at the New Haven Museum
New Haven, Conn. (November 21, 2022)—The New Haven Museum (NHM) recently acquired four new additions to its permanent collection. The large-scale, colorful portraits of distinguished community members are, in some ways, what one might expect to find hanging in a historical
museum, but with one significant difference. Rather than paintings of Industrial Age businessmen or Revolutionary War heroes, the portraits are over-sized Polaroid photographs by Linda Lindroth, an artist who has lived and worked in New Haven since 1984. The artist’s donated works, and others on loan, will be included in a new exhibition, “Instants: Linda Lindroth’s Polaroid Portraits,” opening December 7, 2022.
The eight portraits feature figures hailing from the worlds of visual art, education, architecture, and theatrical performance who have contributed to and been inspired by the city of New Haven. The images were captured in the late 1980s and early 1990s with a Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, a camera so rare only five were initially manufactured.
The subjects of the photographs traveled to the Polaroid studio in Manhattan. The camera itself was large and cumbersome and was moved around the studio on wheels by a technician. Some of the portraits were taken for expected reasons: milestone birthdays, professional achievements, in anticipation of the birth of a baby. Others were staged as part of a specialized series.
“As an art form, 20 x 24 Polaroid photographs are quite different from anything else in the NHM collection,” notes NHM Collections Manager Mary Christ, who organized the exhibition. “But in terms of style, subject, artistry and significance, there are many parallels between the portraits on view in the “Instants” exhibition and portraits in NHM’s existing collection.” Noting those relationships, Christ has paired each of the eight Polaroid portraits with an analogous work in the NHM Online Collections Catalog which visitors can access by QR code.
Lindroth was a participant in the Polaroid Artists Support Program, which began in the 1960s. Polaroid provided cameras and film, free of charge, to photographers; in turn, the photographers would submit their resulting artwork to the Polaroid Collections Committee.
In 2001, Polaroid declared bankruptcy and the Polaroid Artists Support Program ended. The production of film material for the 20 x 24 and other cameras was discontinued. Polaroid’s demise brought the end of its support of artists through its programs and collections and signaled the end of a period of substantive support by corporations to the art world.
“We are grateful to Linda for contributing these works to the Museum’s collection,” says NHM Executive Director Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky. “Donations such as these allow us to strengthen our holdings in color photography and increase representation by women artists in New Haven.”
Lindroth Portraits and Their QR-Code Counterparts
David White, Jr. (1993) was a New Haven photographer and co-owner of a photography studio in New Haven. An artist and photographer himself, White was asked to be the subject of this portrait for the exhibit “Archaeology/Body/City,” inspired by the discovery of an 18th century
African American Burial Ground in New York City. The accompanying QR code pairs White with engraver Amos Doolittle (1754-1832) in a pastel drawing by Ralph Earl (1751-1801).
Jeff Burnett (1993), an actor, performance coach, playwright, and director, taught theater at Yale University and the Educational Center for the Arts, and co-directed events including New Haven’s 350th anniversary. He is depicted as George Clarke, Esq., governor of the colony of New York from 1736 to 1743 as part of the exhibit “Archaeology/Body/City.” He is paired with an equally stern-looking subject in the NHM Collection—Jared Ingersoll (1722-1781)—who held the unenviable position of stamp agent for the Connecticut colony in the decade before the Revolutionary War.
Nathaniel Freeman (1993) is an accomplished actor and artist with numerous credits in film, television, and theater. An actor’s portrayal of a character allows audiences to see the world through another’s eyes and consider issues not previously considered. As such, Christ paired Freeman’s portrait with a sketch in the NHM Collection of one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Falstaff, by George Henry Durrie (1820-1863).
Michael Rush (1993) was an ordained Jesuit priest, an actor, playwright, and founder of the New Haven Artists’ Theater who went on to direct several art museums. Rush’s portrait is paired with Noah Porter (1811-1892), a Congregational minister, abolitionist, and president of Yale University, who also affected changes to the community far beyond the confines of church or congregation.
Helen Cooper (1988) is a distinguished art historian, curator and fellow at Yale University’s Jonathan Edwards College, she served as The Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery for 35 years. Art historians play a crucial role in documenting and preserving the histories of the communities in which they live and the larger society. Cooper is paired with one of New Haven’s greatest historians, John Warner Barber (1798-1885), whose contributions to local history are impossible to overstate.
H. Catherine Skinner (1988) is Senior Research Scientist in Geology and Geophysics at Yale University whose research and published work is truly interdisciplinary, covering subjects including orthopedics, biology and geology, and human health. Skinner is paired with Julia Dyer Merrill, M.D., who began her career in medicine at the Connecticut Training School for Nurses in New Haven, c. 1886 -1888. As a pediatrician, Merrill focused on the prevention of childhood diseases and childhood nutrition.
The Newman Family (1994) portrait included in the exhibition is reminiscent of countless family portraits. The selection of clothing, the styling of hair, and ensuring the cooperation of young children have been necessary considerations for portraiture in any time period. The Newman portrait is paired with an undated photograph of the architect Ithiel Town (1784-1844), which also shows multiple generations of one family.
Linda Lindroth (1990) is the subject in this self-portrait, paired with that of New Haven artist Thomas Royal Waite (1861-1919). Like Lindroth 90 years later, Waite experimented with several artistic techniques throughout his career and was known to use his friends, often fellow artists, as the subjects of his work. Both portraits seem to convey the spirit and personality of the subject.
About Linda Lindroth
In a career that spans more than 50 years, Lindroth continues to create a body of work that is vast but difficult to categorize. She works predominantly in mixed media with a special emphasis on photography. She has exhibited extensively across the country and her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. She has taught art and art history at Quinnipiac University since 1997, and in 2020 founded The Social Justice Reader Fellowship Program, at the Institute Library, New Haven.
In 1975, Lindroth was accepted into the Polaroid Artists Support Program. It was a distinct privilege afforded to just a few working photographers. Lindroth describes her earliest projects with the 20 x 24 camera as performance pieces, photographing process works that she made from objects, paint, and colored paper. Over the years, Polaroid supported many of Lindroth’s award-winning 20 x 24 projects, including “Simultaneous Space” at the Zilkha Gallery of Wesleyan University in 1990.
About the New Haven Museum
The New Haven Museum, founded in 1862 as the New Haven Colony Historical Society, is in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue. The Museum collects, preserves and interprets the history and heritage of Greater New Haven and through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach brings more than 375 years of the Elm City’s history to life. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.