Photographer: P.V.'s Polaroids of People

P.V. is an 25 year photographer born and raised in Brooklyn New York who is quickly establishing himself as a unique NY personality by utilizing instant film to capture Polaroids of some of your favorite hip-hop artists like Jay Z, Pharrell and Alicia Keys. His authentically captured candid photographs are further decorated with impromptu scribblings by the artists themselves that adds a degree of honesty and character to his images. Phil's instant film work is filled with a robust amount of personality, style and energy that captures the energy of strangers and celebrties alike.

P.V.'s teenage years were influenced by the Brooklyn Neighborhood he grew up in, P.V. has been creating art work in various capacities since he can remember. His earliest creative outlet was creating graphics via Photoshop for t-shirts for friends and himself to wear on and off the basketball court. As his artist skills progressed Phil took additional influence from the internet, spending time on forums and discussion boards where he would communicate with his peers from around the world. 

The combination of his real-life and internet connections has resulted in P.V.'s existence becoming a real life movie: constantly filled with a stream of animated characters. With this in mind, he originally planned to pursue film direction to capture his surroundings and tell their stories. However, as time went on Phil realized it would be extremely difficult to fund and accomplish this vision and settled with buying his first digital camera to capture the world around him in 2011. After a years of solid shooting, Phil realized that digital photography wasn’t fulfilling and he went searching for a film camera & ended up with a Polaroid 600.

Fast forward to 2016 and P.V.'s work has now been exhibited on more than 10 occasions and he has been hired to work on campaigns or events surrounding his unique approach Polaroid photography. His first exhibition took place at the Impossible Project Space in Soho, New York City in July of 2013. His most recent exhibition took place at The Storefront Project Gallery in New York City in February of 2017 alongside and in partnership with fellow photographer Justin Aversano. The exhibition, titled “Equipoise”, displayed the various ways in which Polaroid photography can be used. This exhibition was also in partnership with PolaroidsOfPeople, an organization P.V. created to build a community of like minded Polaroid photographers and enthusiasts. When Phil is not managing PolaroidofPeople he works as a co-manager of a clothing brand, a social media manager, and a graphic designer. If this wasn't impressive enough, P.V.'s work has also received attention from Vibe, the Impossible Project Magazine, and Complex

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with P.V.'s about his instant film work and his experiences shooting strangers, artists and musicians in New York City. After you read the interview, connect with P.V. on Instagram and on his website!

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Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it?
Subconsciously Instant film has been a part of my life for as long as i can remember, from seeing the medium used by family members when i was a kid, similar to every child born between the 80’s and 90’s. Instant film become something i personally wanted to explore in the summer of 2012. I was using a digital camera but wanted something less direct & standard, more point & shoot & unorthodox. I decided to purchase a Polaroid camera from Ebay, but i had no idea where to get film for the first few days. Right before i was about to look for an alternative, i discovered the Impossible Project. I’ve been shooting since. It was the organic connection and interaction between an instant photo, myself and the person i was shooting that made me continue to shoot instant film, an instant collaboration with no rules.

How did growing up and living in Brooklyn NY influence the subjects you choose to capture? Do you think you would have had the same creative passion if you were born elsewhere?Brooklyn is filled with sights, sounds & characters. Growing up, School and the streets has always been a fashion show, which is what first sparked my interest in anything creative, clothing. Clothing was the first way to express ourselves. From there i learned about graphics and Photoshop. I started creating t shirts, which ultimately led to photography. This was my first visual experiment. Brooklyn is filled with visual inspiration, i couldn't imagine growing up anywhere else in the world.

Since you started shooting in 2012 you have photographed strangers in and around New York City. What have you learned about your neighbors through this activity that you might have not known or understood otherwise? What are your ways of approaching people while working in the streets generally?
I almost never shoot a complete strangers in the city, there’s way too many to choose from. I started out shooting my friends & artists I’m genuinely a fan of. Some of these artists aren't strangers to me, because of their art, but i’m definitely a complete stranger to them. I usually approach them & ask to take their photo face to face, as simple as that. No politricks, just a guy with a camera. I’ve learned that, in most cases, you simply get what you ask for, if you ask with manners at the right time and place. I’ve also learned that everyone loves something about instant photography.

Can you share with us a positive experience that surprised you when photographing a stranger on the street? One that we wouldn't expect?
Some Artists that I've met for the absolute first time have invited me into their personal homes and spaces to be photographed. I always appreciate their transparency and their appreciation for the art of photography. They understand that i'm there to show love and make them look good, and i'm grateful for that understanding without having to explain anything at all.

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When did you begin photographing well known musicians and artists as apart of your photography? How is shooting "famous" individuals different from shooting strangers on the street? How is it the same?
I began photographing well known musicians and artists the same week i bought my first pack of film. I never shoot “famous” people, it's always artists I'm genuinely a fan of, regardless of their status. Its always organic, I don't chase fame of any sort. For example, the first time I shot a portrait of Pharrell, it was at a Pharrell concert. The interaction is the same between between shooting my friends & shooting well known individuals, i aim to shoot the best portrait every time. The only difference is the amount of time & amount of photos i can take. In some situations i’ve had less than 10 seconds compose myself to take a photo but some of these shots are my favorite images.

How do you gain access to these types of individuals? What is their reception to your SX-70 and the Polaroids you shoot of them?
I gain access by being persistent, by being honest about my intentions, and by being respectful. This has led to personal relationships. At times it’s easier than perceived to gain access, at times it's more difficult. Almost everyone is surprised to see someone shooting with an SX-70 camera that they haven't seen in over 20 years, which opens up an entirely different conversation, but i still want to get a good portrait. The camera isn't a prop or a toy, it's a medium. There’s a mutual respect for each others art.

Can you share with us a story of you attempting and succeeding to shoot an individual that you didn't think you would have a chance to?
When i was younger, i didn't have a desire to be a photographer or anything related to art. As a fan of music I've always looked up artists like Pharrell, Jay-Z or Swizz Beatz, as a kid on the school bus. Now in the year 2017, so much stuff has happened that i feel anything is possible. We’re all humans who desire love. All it takes is persistence, timing and luck to achieve anything. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. As long as i have my camera with me, anything is possible.


One of the unique aspects of your work is you encourage your subjects to draw and write on the border of your Polaroid images. These personalizations are more than just autographs. How do you feel their personal touch influences the photograph itself?
Their personal touch is the organic interaction i was searching for when i was searching for a camera to buy. I didn't just want to be another person with another camera, especially in 2017, where we all have cameras on our phones. I’ve also been interested in graphics longer then I've been interested in photography, original handwriting is the best graphic of all in my opinion. A Photo is a photo no matter what medium you use, but the opportunity to instantly collaborate and interact with the actual photo is something than cannot be achieved via any other medium of art or photography. It's a collaboration that you can physically see and hold in the palm of your hands. I'm the type of person to prefer handwritten over typed. It's a feeling.

Your work has been gaining more and more momentum over the years which has resulted in gallery showings and features in print. What do you think it is about your series that draws people to it?
It's organic.

How have you grown and evolved as an artist since you began your style of Polaroid photography? How has your approach and technique changed since you began?

I’ve grown to trust myself behind a camera. I’m learning to master one of the key components of photography which is light, displaying your subject in the best light. This is something I've had to learn on my own since I've never been taught formally.

I’m also realizing that photography can be a tool for you to express your own alternative interests. I now run the PolaroidsOfPeople brand (PolaroidsOfPeople.com), a community of Polaroid photographers and enthusiasts. Here is where we are able to express ourselves through various mediums, with photography as an underlying theme. Everything starts with a photo.

Now that you have five years of instant film shooting under your belt, what is your opinion on what makes a memorable Polaroid photograph?
It’s all about the moments in time, moment that we can never get back or re-live. Love makes a memorable photograph.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us.
Check out PolaroidsOfPeople.com & stay in tuned. A lot in store.


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Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and seeing live music, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of PRYME Editions. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!