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Image Transfers | Mike Nourse

Mike Nourse

Image Transfers

Mike Nourse is a Chicago-based visual artist, educator, and curator. Originally from Montreal he moved to Chicago to complete degrees at DePaul University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has lived in Chicago since the late1990s, working as a fine artist, teacher, program director, and curator.

His work focuses on found objects, imagery from avant-garde filmmaking, and found footage from popular media outlets.
Nourse’s video and transfer art have shown around the USA and internationally. His work has been covered by JPEG Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, L’Express Magazine, New York Times, and CBS Evening News. His Polaroid series, videos, and transfer works are explorations, using every day subjects, found media, and materials to ask questions about cultural identity. His work focuses on found objects, imagery from avant-garde filmmaking, and found footage from popular media outlets. For the past ten years he has been driven to respond to mass media and popular culture through his work. Mike Nourse compliments his art practice with teaching. As an educator Nourse has taught high school to graduatelevel university students. In addition, he has spent time as a program manager and director, overseeing studio and exhibition programs for Marwen, Digital Media Academy (at University of Chicago), Chicago Art Department, and currently for The Chicago Architecture Foundation.

For the past ten years he has been driven to respond to mass media and popular culture through his work.
In addition to learning, Nourse has also curated over 25 exhibitions, starting in 2001 with a show designed to explore Stanley Kubrick’s 2001; A Space Odyssey. His exhibitions are sometimes the result of programs taught at DePaul, SAIC, or Chicago Art Department, which he co-founded in 2003 as an informal art lab, a place to lead explorations in studio, exhibition, and learning practices for new and emerging artists. Nourse’s teen programs can be found at and, while his recent art can be found at
© All images courtesy of Mike Nourse


Soura Issue 30

Fall 2010 65

Image Transfers | Mike Nourse

The Streets Of Time
The Polaroid experience is a universal one. People from all over the world have owned or used these cameras, waited in anticipation for the photos, and instantly shared the images. Do you remember the last time you saw a Polaroid picture? Chances are you didn’t think twice about the format, because it’s something you know. This is why we miss Polaroid, she is a valued friend who has been with us through thick and thin. Polaroid cameras were popular for the same reasons we love computers today, instant gratification. Today, we expect quick service from restaurants, banks, and other service outlets, because we are used to the speed of exchange through the Internet. That sense of immediacy was paramount to the Polaroid.It’s hard to think that Polaroids are really no more. Towards the middle of 2008 I was searching for a way to eulogize Polaroid, which had recently announced that they were ceasing the production of film. Like many other Polaroid users, I was caught between two places. First, I couldn’t imagine a world without Polaroid cameras. Next, I understood modern economics and changing times, which could easily explain why Polaroid’s run as instant camera king was seemingly coming to an end. So I stood in the middle, an admirer of the tool, but understanding that its time had passed. At the time I would not have called myself a Polaroid fanatic, but when it comes to art, I often look for moments in history to address important issues, and use such opportunities to create a meaningful series. This felt like just such an opportunity. I saw the end of instant film as a challenge. How to memorialize a pop culture institution? How to speak to this while also building off of the Polaroid legacy of being quick, easy, fun, and clear? Like many of the best Polaroid projects, I started with subjects that were around me, close, and part of my urban landscape. I thought of death and trying to capture that. Old people? Graveyards? Visuals of dying or falling apart? These directions seemed too obvious. I didn’t have a clear vision until coming home one day. When I noticed a house address that reminded me of a date, I knew what I wanted to do. So I started to take pictures of years around my neighborhood, starting with 1937 (the year Polaroid was incorporated). For the first few days of shooting, it was fairly easy and painless, fun, and simple, not unlike the Polaroid itself. Other factors however, turned this quick and easy “fun” into a 3-month project. If you have ever been to Chicago, you know that the block system for street addresses works on a grid, and is simple to follow. Every block features addresses, which begin at 0. For example, the address numbers on a block with 30 houses, on the even side of the street, which begins at say 1900, will go to 1960. The next block does not immediately follow that number, but rather starts fresh at 2000. This allows for predictable block numbers, so that even newcomers to the city can navigate fairly easily. I found that while this system was good for predicting the city layout, it was bad for my Polaroid project. I aimed for the series to include dates from 1937 to 2008, however there are not many blocks with more than 35 houses on them, meaning I was only able to find a few numbers above 1970 in Chicago. I spent roughly six weeks on car, foot, and bike searching the entire city. I did find a couple of 1970s addresses, but after many weeks of work, I realized that Chicago would not be able to give me all of the numbers for this project. After exhausting every street option in Chicago, I realized that I had to travel to a different city. I’ve always needed reasons to visit New York City, and this was a good one. I went to the Big Apple in the spring of 2008 with a mild sense of direction, bad shoes and a bag full of 600 film packs. I was missing roughly 20 numbers, mostly between 1980 and 2000. I quickly figured out that the dates in question would most likely be south on Flatbush Avenue, and way up north in Harlem. In typical NYC style, I spent the weekend in my own world, meeting great people, puzzling many more, burning through two pairs of shoes, and finally finding my last date (1994) in Harlem, roughly two hours before my flight back to Chicago. I was hoping for an easier project when I started, something that wouldn’t take as much out of me. However maybe that was an important part of this work, the fact that it was grueling, much like the feeling of losing something. When I found the last number in NYC, I stopped, stood, and wondered. I knew I had finished the project, but after three months, part of me didn’t want to believe it. I had to sit on the curb and look at this number. How could it have taken so long? Was this really it? I took a couple of extra shots just to make sure that I had it right. I placed the pictures in my container, and made my way back home. Like the saying, all good things come to an end. Like the camera itself, my favorite art projects are simple ones. I aimed to memorialize the Polaroid era, and ended up with a series of images that represent the life of an icon in the photo industry. While individual images can be seen online, the finished piece hangs in my staircase, and houses all the dates from 1937 to 2008 inside of a vertical grid, much like the 600 film that I used. At some point I might change my mind, but for now I can’t bring myself to sell the piece or even show it. Maybe it’s because I don’t want Polaroid to be gone forever? I look at the piece almost every day, and it never ceases to make an impression, lift an emotion, or help me appreciate the life around me. Not unlike what Polaroid did for so many years.
Fall 2010 67

66 Soura Issue 30

I understood modern economics and changing times, which could easily explain why Polaroid’s run as instant camera king was seemingly coming to an end.