BRISTOL, Tenn. -- John Dunlap never goes anywhere without his golf tee and Polaroid camera.
Whether he's on the job as the public relations director for Nextel in NASCAR or simply driving through the countryside on an off-day, his 20-year-old camera is never too far away. After all, he never knows when an inspiration will strike.
Dunlap admits he's got the greatest job in the world, but he'd trade it all away for the opportunity to create art for a living.
"Don't get me wrong: I do love working with Nextel and car racing," he said. "It's like a family out here. For me, it's a lot of fun. You get paid to do something so many fans wish they could do. But, the inside of me says (the art) is something I dearly love. There's a side of me, the photographer, artist, writer side of me, that's always wanted to come out."
The Jacksonville, Fla., native is one of a handful of artists who take Polaroid photographs, then manipulates the impression with a golf tee while the image is still wet. When it dries, the photograph looks more like a painting than a picture.
"In my case, I'm such a fan of French Impressionism and bold strokes, when I started using far more painting-like strokes with the emulsion to make the photo look like a painting," he said. "I've always loved French Impressionism, but since I don't draw well or paint, I never thought I'd get anywhere close. Now I have a form of photography that allows me to emulate something I really, really love."
Dunlap has hosted nine one-man shows in the last three years. His work was the focus of a five-minute feature on CBS News Sunday Morning recently, and other art galleries are trying to fit future shows around the Nextel Cup Series schedule.
While stock car racing gives Dunlap an endless forum to express himself, he said he hates to paint himself into a corner, so to speak. That's why he spends most Saturday afternoons driving miles from the track looking for a shot he can turn into art. He looks for mountain lakes or a patch of flowers; storm clouds and historic buildings; soft blankets of fog and quiet streams.
He has self-imposed rules. He never manipulates a person's face or their bodies. Other than that, he's only limited by his imagination.
"I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to do these hand-manipulated Polaroids," he said. "In truth, with people altering photos on computers, there aren't that many of us out there with an ability to do it with a Polaroid."
First, it's not easy to find a Polaroid camera that can shoot the old-fashioned peel-apart photos that take an hour to completely dry. He uses an SX-70 model that went out of production 20 years ago and Time-Zero film. He said the only way to find the camera now is on the Internet or an antique shop.
A few other artists hand-manipulate Polaroid photographs, but none as daringly as Dunlap.
Some of Dunlap's more popular photos are of a pit stops at races. He also has a catalog of nature and seasonal photographs.
"I'm so wrapped up in this, I spent half my time being an artist, half my time being a tourist," he said. "This is my love."
Everything else is just a job.
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