Documentary extraordinaire Errol Morris is back with The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War director’s focus this time is, as the title suggests, on his own friend and neighbor, portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman.

Dorfman began her career in the 1960s and 70s, photographing subjects who visited her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio, including family and friends and Beat generation poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. In the 1980s, Dorfman began using a Polaroid Land 20×24 camera, one of the largest format cameras in common use, for her work. Due to bankruptcy, Polaroid ceased production of its instant film products in 2008, leading Dorfman to stock up with a year’s supply of her camera’s last available 20 x 24 instant film.

Morris and Dorfman have been friends for 25 years, and the filmmaker hopes to shed light not just on his subject but also large-format photography. “Elsa has always said that that these pictures become more and more valuable over time,” Morris said when The B-Side premiered at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, “and she’s absolutely right. These pictures are some of my most valued possessions, pictures of my mother and stepfather who are dead. There is something different about these 20×24 Polaroids than a normal snapshot, it’s almost as if the person is really there, standing next to you. While you can take photographs on hundreds of different media, there is something about this process that was magical and unique.”

Watch the trailer below.

Portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman found her medium in 1980: the larger-than-life Polaroid Land 20×24 camera. For the next thirty-five years she captured the “surfaces” of those who visited her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio: families, Beat poets, rock stars, and Harvard notables. As pictures begin to fade and her retirement looms, Dorfman gives Errol Morris an inside tour of her backyard archive.


Neon will release The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography on June 2.

No more articles