‘Instant Miami’ shows off the complexity of society in 1980s

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William Wegman exhibits his collection “instant Miami” at the Williams Arts Center (Photo by Elle Cox ’21)

Devin On

Life and time are two things that move with one another because as one goes forward, so does the other. However, what would happen when individuals stop and take a moment to reflect on what has happened in their life? Time is suddenly suspended within the frame of life, and perspectives widen.

William Wegman in his 1984 art exhibition “Instant Miami” explores culture by suspending time and snapshotting simple moments. He began his journey in Florida with the motto “to see, to react, and not to document,” emphasizing his intentions of wanting to keep his work authentic. Wegman spent a week in Miami, walking through the city streets like a curious child.

However, the “curious child” ventured with a massive refrigerator size 20-inch x 24-inch Polaroid camera. The device was one of only five made by the Polaroid Corporation and it had been specially flown from New York to Florida. Setting up the camera in each location was a difficult task because of how massive it was and required many assistants to help operate its finicky mechanics.

The unique 20 x 24-inch image that was taken developed in a slow process, which is ironic because when individuals use small, hand-held Polaroid cameras, they process instantly. Furthermore, Wegman focused his photographs on capturing life as he saw it, ranging from everyday life to the extraordinary. He visited the famous Les Violins Supper Club, a family-style restaurant that had Cuban stars perform and managed to suspend time to allow the image to tell its’ story.

Wegman’s use of light and the color red as a backdrop in each image of performance accentuates the passion that performers excreted. Also, the simplicity, yet the surreal position of each performer in the Polaroid reflects the values 1980s Miami culture had regarding the arts. For example, in the image “Live and Let Lie”, Wegman juxtaposes two cherry-red dressed dancers next to a man who appears to be a native of the city. The backdrop for this scene is a beautiful beach that encompasses what life in Miami was all about: vibrancy with a twist of peacefulness.

As one progresses through Wegman’s collection of images, it becomes clear that each frame encapsulates the varying aspects of society in Miami. Ranging from the flamboyance of the performing arts, to the harmony that comes from relationships, and the complexities of when both of them are intertwined.

“Instant Miami” illustrates the intricacies of society during this time related to Nestor Armando Gil, Associate Professor of Art and co-curator of the exhibition, who grew up visiting Miami as a child in the 80s. “Instant Miami recalls for me a deeply personal moment in my own childhood,” Professor Gil expresses in his essay, “I saw examples of my own identity that exploded the narrow way in which I had, until then, constructed it.”

In retrospect, if Wegman were to repeat this process in contemporary times using a smartphone or digital camera, the message would remain the same, but the effect would differ drastically. The experience of using an old Polaroid camera affirms how one is transpired to be suspended in time with each image and receive a sense of nostalgia. “Instant Miami” compels each individual to take a moment to reflect on the coexistence of tranquility and dynamism.