llen Carey got her M.F.A. in Buffalo, in the late-seventies, alongside future art-world luminaries such as Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo. She showed at the storied Buffalo gallery Hallwalls before decamping for New York City, in 1979, where she worked at the Spring Street Bar, a gathering place for an earlier generation of downtown artists, and frequented the Odeon. (Ask her about the time she was roped into a round of preprandial jockstrap selection for the Artforum editor John Coplans.) On a recent video call from her home in Hartford, Connecticut, looking very much the part of a former downtown doyenne in an all-black ensemble and thick mane of white hair, Carey recalled, “I thought the avant-garde was normal.” Still, she never quite fit in among the city’s creative demimonde. Peers such as Sherman were emerging as savvy analysts of contemporary image culture. Many were theory-besotted postmodernists interested in notions of authorial demise and the mutability of the self. Carey, in contrast, made wacky pictures of her friends and kaleidoscopic, hand-painted SX-70 Polaroid self-portraits that were heavily inspired by the Surrealists. In 1983, at the suggestion of the curator Marvin Heiferman, she took up the laborious, expensive work of using one of only five extant Polaroid 20×24” cameras—a two-hundred-and-thirty-five-pound behemoth that could be raised to the height of six feet—then housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The resulting self-portraits were eye-popping, retro-futuristic rejoinders to the cool cynicism of the Pictures Generation.