Photographer Patrick Hoelck has a Polaroid he shot of the Hollywood Palladium in 2008. The landmark Los Angeles venue was in the middle of being renovated, so with its empty marquee, boarded up doors, and haphazard white paintjob, Hoelck thinks the building looks like it’s on the Universal Studios backlot, not on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. To him, the image represents the emotional tenor of the times. “The world ended, we went broke, and no one was advertising,” says Hoelck, who made much of living shooting celebrity-driven campaigns. “I like that Palladium image, it’s a reminder of what could happen in a matter of months, how vulnerable it all is.”
Back then, when advertisers had slashed budgets and were focused on trying to figure out how to sell over the internet, there weren’t many job opportunities for Hoelck. He ended up having to sell a bunch of his possessions in order to avoid losing his house.
Eight years later, Hoelck has become social media literate and is now the purveyor of his own app. Officially titled Patrick Hotel, it’s a digital continuation of his 2011 book Polaroid Hotel. That collection features Polaroid photos that Hoelck mostly took in New York City at the Standard Hotel. The app contains those photos, as well as commentary describing the story behind each one of them, all available for purchase within the app. Patrick Hotel also allows users to take their own digital Polaroids and use custom filters developed by Hoelck that pay tribute to his favorite quirks and unique qualities of the medium.
Hoelck’s fascination with Polaroids came about during the height of his advertising career. He was working mostly in studios with expensive lighting rigs and total influence over every aspect of the image. “Polaroid was like a solace,” he says. “It was a place to go where you weren’t able to predict what was coming out of you, and you had no control of it.”
Despite Hoelck’s foray into mobile tech, he’s still got a lot of reservations about our cultural relationship with social media. Speaking about Instagram timeline scrolling, he says, “You might have seen [an image] at eleven in the morning, and at four o’clock it’s six million stories away. It’s gone.”
He’s also clearly flummoxed by the abundance of opportunities for overexposure these apps provide. “I’m fascinated with these chicks that just only document their faces with the bunny ears and shit,” he says. “You feel like there’s going to be a rehab soon for this.”
None of this is to say that Hoelck has a pessimistic outlook on where this is all headed. He still believes that good work can, and does, stand out among what he describes as an “overwhelming noisy content layer.” More than that, he believes we’re heading for a complete collapse of the status quo. “It’s got to come off the rails, it’s so loud,” he says. “I believe that when something’s so out of control, it explodes, and something is born from it. And I think in anything—art, music, history—we’re looking forward to the explosion.”