A wall of IPA Polaroids depicts videos’ pioneering era

“The Polaroid Wall”

Scott Jacobs, the ebullient former 18-year owner / president / EP of post house IPA in Bucktown paid me a pleasant, nostalgic visit last week to show me how to most effectively use the mobile app for his fascinating “Polaroid Wall.”

The Polaroid Wall” captures the staff. clientele and friends from 1982-2000 at the Webster Street editing house, when it was the nexus for a budding community of independent visual media producers. Kartemquin finished “Hoop Dreams” there. Bob Teitel and George Tillman slept on an editing room couch while finishing “Soul Food,” their first feature.

“Scores of other producers, directors, artists, editors and designers also got their start at IPA on the way to becoming industry leaders,” Jacobs said as we toured the “Wall” and laughed at finding a familiar face, with Jacobs bringing me up-to-date on that person’s current success. (He pointed out that an IPA exec and a client are currently college presidents.)

“We were sort of the Chess Records of Video,” said Jacobs, EP on “The Polaroid Wall,” which was several years in the making. “If you had a lot of great ideas and not much money, eventually you found your way to IPA.”

The candid photos, many inscribed in the margin with snarky captions, show late night editing sessions, jerry-rigged production shoots, endless rounds of construction, and numerous parties, an IPA hallmark and institution.

Using the quick-and-easy app, Jacobs showed me how to swipe around the wall, zoom in on individual photos or – best of all, search by name, year or themes, like art, technology and construction.

Scott Jacobs, EPThere are 380 people identified in the photos, with notes on what they were doing then and what they are doing now. We followed the photo trails of people – many of whom appear 20, 30 or 40 times – through a function called “View in Wall,” which gives a multi-angled view of the spirit that animated the times.

“In some ways, it reads like a photo history. In other ways, it’s a graphic novel,” Jacobs told me. “But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun to hunt around and serendipitously discover Bill Kurtis sitting at a typewriter in the edit room, or a young Forrest Claypool (current head of the Chicago public schools) mugging it up in his days as a political consultant.”

(You can find me in two photos, both with the caption “Miss Screen.” I haven’t looked that good since.)

The photos had been sitting for 16 years in Jacobs’ bedroom closet, in large panels with 28 photos on each panel. They came back to life, he said, when his IPA partner and first engineer, Tom Shea, came through Chicago two years ago on his way to retire in Northern Michigan. When Jacobs showed him the collection, Shea said it should be digitized and offered to do it. That was followed by a group of former employees who suggested an app you could swipe, zoom and search.

Eve Saxon and Marilyn Wulff, now editors at Answers Media, helped identify people in the photos. Graphic designers Casey Stockdon, now principal at Red Dynamo Design, and freelance Rich DuCasse put the digital photos together, Jacobs related as I nodded my head.

(I had known those people back in the day, when I wrote about them in my then-print publication, the Original Screen Magazine, itself a pioneering initiative.)

Then David Zerlin, who started his career making CD-Roms at IPA and is now VSA Partners’ Director of User Experience, came up with the graphic interface and recruited VSA’s Scott Munn to create the app programming.

“The Technology photo trail highlights the transition from analog to digital in 22 photos showing the arrival at IPA of the first videotape machines with timecode, 8-inch floppy discs, the first DVE, first Quantel Paintbox, 3D graphics, Avid editing, and widescreen TV,” he said.

“What I like most about ‘The Polaroid Wall’ is that it shows the video revolution wasn’t led by one or two visionaries,” Jacobs continued. “There were hundreds of people out there trying new things in corporate video, documentaries, journalism and art. And they all found their way to IPA. Probably because we were cheap,” he added with a laugh, in which I joined him.

You can purchase “The Polaroid Wall” app for iPhones and iPads for $3.99 in the Apple Store. (There is no Android version yet.) You can also see selected photos on Instagram (ipaeditors)or Facebook or on a free, non-searchable version on Gigapan.com.

App distribution by Subtle Communications, under license from PLR IP Holdings LLC.

Jacobs, who is still producing videos for long-time clients and writing novels with a political slant, can be reached at ipascott@aol.com.