When I was asked to do something for Tate the alphabet idea was very much in my mind because I’d just seen an exhibition of Polaroid pictures by Walker Evans. I’ve been a fan of Evans since I was a student in the 1950s, and the exhibition catalogue explained that he’d taken photographs until he was about 60, when he became very ill and stopped.
Then someone gave him a SX70 Polaroid camera, which is quite a small one that you can carry easily, and he started photographing everything around him – signs and things like that. He thought about doing an alphabet, but died soon after.
It was such a nice idea that I thought I’d do it as a homage to him, so the idea isn’t lost – not to compete with him but just to pick up the idea and carry on with it.
I’d already started to do that, so when we talked it seemed a perfect idea for the magazine. There was a time limit because we only had three weeks to complete the alphabet, so I also decided to limit it to my studio and the environment of the studio.
I’m going to have trouble with Z, I think – I can’t find a Z so far, but I know that I will. In recent years the concept of the Polaroid has been overshadowed by the development of the digital camera.
What was always handy about the Polaroid was that you could take a picture in secret and it didn’t have to be developed. That can now be done digitally, so in a way its purpose has gone.
Peter Blake, September 2003