Chad Coombs Combines Painterly Passion with Polaroid Photography

June 2, 2014

By Barbara Goldman

© Chad Coombs

 Polaroid photography and painting techniques create an intense kind of portraiture.

Photographer Chad Coombs likes to shake up and disturb viewers with his work.  Born in 1982 in Saskatoon, Canada and still residing there, Coombs was interested in art at an early age and started to paint. However, the attempted re-education of left-to right-handedness in his early school years and his visual impairment (a legally blind right eye) made working in the field of art very difficult for him. Only on discovering photography as an artistic medium did his full creative potential have the chance to develop. The camera offered Coombs the creativity he was searching for in his painting.

In 2002 before digital cameras and Photoshop became all the rage, Coombs bought a Polaroid SX-70 camera and some Time-Zero film. He was told he could smear the emulsion and make photos that would look like pantings, which appealed to him since he always wanted to be a painter. He experimented with the Polaroids in all kinds of ways.  He froze them, heated them with lighters to get a bubbly surface, even tried microwaving them but never got the results he wanted.  Finally, he tried peeling the Time Zero Polaroids apart and was thrilled with the results. He created a photo that looked just like a painting.

Coombs experimentation has led him to develop his own art form that has garnered him noteworthy reviews and exhibitions here and in Europe. His methods are still the same and only his subjects have changed.  He makes collages where he cuts faces from his own photos and places them on black paper, photographs them onto Time Zero film and then carves into the Polaroid with a sharp screw or nail. With the peeling process, Coombs goes a step further and carves them and separates the back from the front, resulting in two inner layers. He can carve in hair, eye lashes and  lips or other delicate features and create outlining and shading that presents a surreal and fascinating effect. Sometimes the colors can be neutral and soft, and at other times they can be very bright and profound. Coombs’ current collection now includes over 700 images.  

In one of his most current series POLAROIDS (2006-2012), Coombs has portrayed women’s heads. The scraping process allows him to add sharp contours to the portraits, emphasizing a gentle beauty and delicacy of the features so that painting and photography have reached a perfect balance. The effect is reminiscent of photography from the kind of glamour photography of the 30s. The portraits focus  especially on the mouth, hair and the eyes. With the eyelashes emphasized and extended through the scraping and contouring, a kind of lush high-fashion look comes to mind.
But he also creates faces with large clownish features that come off a bit grotesque. Either way, the portraiture has a kind of hallucinatory and dreamlike effect where the viewer is entranced and cannot pull away.  

In his series FUTURE WILDLIFE PORTRAITS (2007), Coombs has created animal portraiture of the future. There are scenes of what the world may look like if humans continue to pollute the environment. There is an intense reality that can be a bit frightening.

Coombs has had to shows in Germany and both POLAROIDS and FUTURE WILDLIFE PORTRAITS have just been released as booksand are availabel for purchase. We look forward to seeing what Coombs will present with his next installment and PhotoServe will be first to present it. See more of the intriguing work of Chad Coombs at his site,

© Chad Coombs