Mary Swope has a binder full of Polaroids of scenes from the TV show “Seinfeld” on her lap. She starts to laugh.
“See, here, Elaine has had too many muscle relaxers and is being introduced to a woman named Stella. So of course, she takes off…” and out of Mary’s mouth comes a low, guttural “Stella.”
Done channeling Elaine (one of the show’s main characters), Swope, her gray hair cropped close, giggles.
Over the course of a year, Swope took over 500 Polaroid photos of her TV screen with closed captions running across the bottom as “Seinfeld” played.
In collaboration with Vince Donovan, co-owner of Photobooth, a photo gallery, store and studio on Valencia Street, she whittled the collection down to 102 photos that will cover the gallery’s walls this Saturday night for the opening of her exhibit, “I Can’t Hold It Anymore: Polaroid Interpretations of Seinfeld.”
Donovan has only ever seen two “Seinfeld” episodes. Swope has seen each episode 20 to 30 times. But both can appreciate the photos.
“There were so many photos that without any knowledge of the show were just hilarious,” Donovan says. “I would ask Mary ‘What is this?’ sometimes, and she would just start laughing.”
Swope and Donovan met at a pinhole photo conference a few years ago. He took her portrait and they started talking Polaroids. Her passion was apparent.
When Donovan opened Photobooth last year, Swope came in early on.
“She asked if she could show her Polaroids. I was sort of worried I would be looking at a bunch of Polaroids of her grandchildren, and when she showed up with these binders, we started looking at them and it was like the opening of King Tut’s tomb.”
“We all just sat here, flicked through the binders, completely spellbound.”
He immediately told her he wanted to have a show, but it took a while for everything to come together.
“I was actually worried that she was going to go with another gallery,” he says.
Swope, who is from a small town outside of Boston and moved to San Francisco in 1960, has always made art a part of her life.
“Art has been my avocation,” she says. “I did it for the love of it but also [as] my profession.”
She loves Polaroids because they’re instant, high-quality and accessible. For her “Seinfeld” series, she obsessively watched and took photos of her television for over a year.
Polaroids and “Seinfeld” are a good match, she says.
“For ‘Seinfeld’ you get just one image. It speaks for itself. He is crazy, I mean crazy. They did stuff no one would ever do.”
Swope is far from a novice artist.
“I’ve had other shows over the years. Openings are fun. I’m in a daze, I don’t know what is happening. I babble. All parts of one’s life come together. You get people coming together from different parts of your life. It is nice to show your work and get their reactions.”
Until 1995 she taught art in the avenues, a job that she loved. In fact, the work of one of her former elementary school students, Jenny Samson, graced a wall at Photobooth when it opened — the same wall that Swope’s works will fill this coming weekend.
“The kids at that age are very unfettered,” Swope says. “They are willing to try things but they do tighten up around third or fourth grade, because they become aware of what things look like. Their world is bigger, so when they draw they will see the disconnect.”
Over the decades, Swope’s own work has taken a variety of forms — printmaking, drawing, photography. But for each creative act, the process stays the same.
“You have an impulse, you put it down, you work on it, and you are pleased enough to bring it forth,” she says. “You can always get better; you never get there.”
Asked how it will be to part with the photos — Polaroids are one of a kind — she perks up. “Actually, great — for me, I got such joy from the process and excited for others.”
“I Can’t Hold It Anymore: Polaroid Interpretations of Seinfeld,” opens Saturday, Aug. 4, and will run until Aug. 24. The opening party is this Saturday night from 7 to 10 p.m. at Photobooth, 1193 Valencia St. between 22nd and 23rd.