Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera
Large-scale self-portraits radiating intimacy and warmth
This exhibition is the first to explore autobiography in the work of Elsa Dorfman (1937–2020), a beloved Cambridge photographer known for her large-format commissioned portraits. Working with a 200-pound, 20 x 24 Polaroid camera, one of only a few in existence, Dorfman photographed friends, artists, and celebrities, all with disarming informality. Though many of her portraits are of others, Dorfman’s self-portraiture was integral to her entire practice. “Being comfortable with the camera on myself affected how I felt in taking pictures of others,” she once said. “I really had in my mind that this was helping me, in some magical way, to take portraits, because people would sense I did it to myself, too.”
Bringing together a selection of 20 x 24 self-portraits made since 1980, “Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera” looks at the artist’s life through her work. Intimate photographs of Dorfman with her son, Isaac, and her husband, lawyer Harvey Silverglate, reveal the family’s close bond. Self-portraits of the artist with her camera show the delight she took in the medium. Some of the photographs show the artist with a bundle of black balloons. These works, taken on Dorfman’s birthday, form an ironic chronicle of the process of aging. The exhibition also includes a group of smaller black-and-white photographs from the landmark 1974 photobook Elsa’s Housebook: A Woman’s Photojournal. These images celebrate the circle of friends who visited Dorfman at her home near Harvard Square in the 1970s, including Allen Ginsberg and a host of other writers.
Like all of Dorfman’s work, the photographs in this exhibition radiate warmth, inviting visitors into the intimate moments of an extraordinary life.
Supported by Abigail Congdon and Joseph Azrack, and Kathy Metcalfe and Lang Wheeler.