The photographer is known for her uniquely colourful shots of subcultures, but now – in a new Polaroid collaboration – she’s turning her lens to the past.

The photographer is known for her uniquely colourful shots of subcultures, but now – in a new Polaroid collaboration – she’s turning her lens to the past.

“Zest, sass, moxy, character, je ne sais quoi!” – so goes the roll call of traits depicted in Parker Day’s photography.

The colourful characters seen in her work come straight from her San Francisco upbringing. “As a kid, my dad owned a comic book store – one of the first in the nation,” she says. “I soaked up Garbage Pail Kids, Mars Attacks, as well as X-Men, Manga, and sneak peeks at underground comics.”

As such, these influences were a natural pull towards exploring subcultures: “In my art, I’m very drawn to people on the fringe in terms of how they present themselves.”

In this sense, Day aligns herself with fellow provateur Diane Arbus, the arbiter of shooting marginalised people. However, while Arbus proclaims her “freaks” as “aristocrats”, her portraits totter on the edge of discomfort, with a question mark hanging over whether they are humanised or dehumanised. In contrast, Day’s relationships with her sitters remain resolutely direct. “I love the immediacy of photography and the connection it facilitates between myself and my subjects,” she confirms.

 

Blue Lady, Oscar Ambrosio

Blue Lady, Oscar Ambrosio

Baddie ’90s, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

Baddie ’90s, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

Her work is celebratory, rejecting Photoshop (“I believe what’s captured in the moment is perfect and I don’t want to tamper with that”), and relying on film to play with perception and reality.

“My work is about the malleability of identity and the potentials of self,” she explains. “I like for viewers to not be sure if they’re looking at a real person or a put on.”

Part of this is about channelling her outlandish characters in a bodily way: “I spend a lot of time practising portraying emotions with my face looking in the mirror at home – or when driving! People in the cars next to me must think I’m nuts.”

Smoky Eye, Alyha Love

Smoky Eye, Alyha Love

H8, Ernie Omega

H8, Ernie Omega

 

All this playfulness comes to the forefront in her latest collaboration with Polaroid. The series, titled Still Got It, riffs on family portraits through the decades, with colourful cameras acting as stand-ins for beloved pets.

Included in the lineup is 89-year-old Instagram celebrity Baddie Winkle, Frances Davis, the self-proclaimed “Diva of West Hollywood” and daughter of jazz legend Miles Davis. “I got so verklempt as she showed us photos of her as the most elegant young ballerina, and then dancing with Elvis!”

With Parker and Polaroid encouraging us to reconnect with our past, it’s clear how the digital age has transformed our understanding of subcultures to no longer mean isolation. “What’s funny now is that people who are outside of the mainstream can still have 50k+ followers on Instagram,” Day says.

As such, the photographer calls for an expanding vocabulary. “I hope to find better words than fringe or subculture for describing these inspiring people.”

Until those terms are decided, her photography is doing just that.

Cricket, Cheeky Ma

Cricket, Cheeky Ma

Goosebumps, Maddy Ellwanger

Goosebumps, Maddy Ellwanger

Hellcat, Cat Black

Hellcat, Cat Black

Vamp, Jamie Ingram

Vamp, Jamie Ingram

’70s Darla, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

’70s Darla, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

Bad Brains, Ymani Barbee.

Bad Brains, Ymani Barbee.

Family ’60s, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

Family ’60s, from Polaroid’s Still Got It series.

 

Parker Day’s Still Got It series featuring Baddie Winkle was commissioned by Polaroid Originals to mark the launch of the new ’96 custom vintage Polaroid camera.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter