Q&A: Expired Eight /w Christopher Thomas

This is the 24th edition of our Q&A blog series titled "The Expired Eight". Our aim is to highlight instant film photographers using expired film in a variety of formats. Today's Q&A is with Christopher Thomas! 

Christopher Thomas, born in 1961 in Munich and a graduate from the Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Fotografie, has received a number of international awards as a commercial photographer. His photo reportages have appeared in magazines such as GeoSüddeutsche Zeitung MagazinStern and Merian.

As an artist, Christopher Thomas has established a reputation above all through his city portraits. The first of his cityscapes was Munich Elegies which was exhibited at the Museum of Photography in Munich in 2005 (published by Schirmer/Mosel, 2005). This was followed by the series New York Sleeps that he worked on between 2001 and 2009. The companion publication, New York SleepsPhotographs by Christopher Thomas, was published by Prestel in 2009 (6th edition 2012) and was awarded the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis (German Photobook Prize).

In 2010 Christopher Thomas photographed amateur actors during rehearsals for the Passion Play in Oberammergau. The result was a cycle of 56 portraits that are reminiscent of paintings by Old Masters that exude the spirit of the Play. The volume Christopher Thomas. Passion. Photographs of the Passion Play, Oberammergau was published by Prestel at the same time. Christopher Thomas received several awards for this cycle such as the Silver Medal of the Art Directors Club of Germany (2011) and the German Design Award (2013). The Bavarian National Museum in Munich exhibited a wide selection of photos from this cycle from October 2011 to April 2012 in its magnificent Gothic Hall.

The following two volumes of photographs were also published by Prestel Verlag: Venice in Solitude (2012) and Paris. City of Light (2014).  Most recently Engadin (2015) was presented in conjunction with two exhibitions in St. Moritz.

Works by Christopher Thomas can be seen around the world in well-known photography galleries and at trade fairs, as well as in major private and institutional collections such as the Francois Pinault Collection, the Sir Elton John Photography Collection and the German Bundestag Art Collection.

You can connect with Christopher Thomas on his website!

Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it:
30 years ago I started as a stillife and advertising photographer, for 20 years I did car campaigns and in order to judge arrangements and exposure we shot polaroids before exposing film. especially for long exposures we used polaroid type 55 because it has the same schwarzschild-behavior as the film does. I found it always sad to throw away the beautiful negative and in 1999 I started my first own project on Polaroid, the book „Muenchner Elegien“ (Munich Elegies).

What attracted you to Expired Film. What's your favorite to use? 
When I started that project the film was not expired. only after 2008, when it was not produced any more, it became expired film.I love the type 55 and I used it for everything - portraits, stills, landscape. when it went out of production I bought material for more than € 50,000.— , bought several fridges which I placed in the cellar of my studio and I still have some - not much - left. but to answer your question: I love the unpredictability uns unregularity of expired film - it has character as everything that ages.

How do you describe your work and how do you decide what subjects to photograph? What sorts of things capture your attention?
I did several city portraits. I started with the series about munich - not planning to do a book but rather as a balance to my assigned work. after it got so much attention and after it was sold out quite quickly I produced my second book „New York Sleeps“. Also here I at first did not intend to present it publicly but I got an offer from Steven Kasher gallery in New York to show it and the publishing house Prestel offered to do the book. The first edition was sold out after 3 months and now it is in 6. or 7. edition. Those books were followed by „Venice in Solitude“, „Lights of Paris“ and now „Lost in LA“. All are portraits of cities in peace, long exposure, without people and if possible without cars.

What are the main difficulties and hurdles obtaining and using expired film in this format?
One point obviously is getting it at all if it went out of production years ago. second is the price and third: the chemistry starts to dry out and in the dark areas the film develops a fungus. so now most of the time the film sticks to the sheet holder and doesn´t want to come out. this takes patience if you stand somewhere, have beautiful light and you cannot shoot immedeately.

What types of Instant Cameras do you own?  Which One is your favorite and why?
I do own an sx 70 but I always used large format sheet film in cameras like sinar, cambo, deardorff and linhof. my linhof got stolen during my shoot in paris so now I use a cambo and a deardorff. I like all of them for their own character.

Any tips for those interested in experimenting?
relax and go with the flow. accept the fact that things do not always turn out as you expected and that of course is the charm in using instant film.

When you are not shooting expired Polaroid film, what film are you shooting and why?
I use roll film because I own a linhof technorama and that works with rollfilm. I did a book about the engadina with this. but I am not religious and I also shoot digital if necessary.

Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?
I would not judge a photographer by the film, the camera or the technique he or she uses but by their results. My gallery in london, Hamiltons gallery, just before my present exhibition showed the work of roger ballen and I really love his work. but I do not know what camera or film he uses nowadays.


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Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and seeing live music, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of PRYME Editions. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!