This is the 20th 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 Stefan Merz, known to the world as the photographer Herr Merzi
Stefan Merz is an analog photographer from Frankfurt Germany. Merz tries to create atmospheres with his photos, sometimes exotic and fantasy-like, sometimes familiar scenes of everyday life. He captures and evokes emotion, telling little stories with each click of the shutter. There is a mood of intimacy in his photos, where the nudity of the models is natural, and is secondary, really, to the rest of the story being told by the photos. Merz postulates that when the models he photographs are nude, their true selves emerge. There is no clothing, no costume, no artifice to hide behind. The look in their eyes is genuine, their expressions a bit stronger, and this authenticity is one of the things that compels him to shoot fine art nudes.
Merz began his photographic journey through the once popular Suicide Girls website in early 2007. His girlfriend at the time completed a photo shoot with an official Suicide Girls photographer in Germany and the results presented were less than satisfying. Merz knew he could do a better job himself! It was at this moment that he bought himself his first DSLR and within the next year his work was published and his girlfriend became an official Suicide Girl. As time progressed during his first to years as a photographer he had a total of 5 photographic sets hit the front page of Suicide Girls but realized shortly that the website valued free content they could profit from and not true photographic art.
Since Merz's awareness of this reality, he has jumped headfirst into analog photography with expired Polaroid film to produce artistically satisfying fine art nude images. Merz's work has been widely exhibited and recognized. His photos have been exhibited as part of Expolaroid in Nantes and Rennes, France; at the Blackbox Gallery in Portland, Oregon; and at ART Undressed in Miami, Florida. His photos have been featured in print magazines, including Klassik Magazine and Mein Heimlich Auge #31 Erotic Yearbook. Merz's photos have also been featured on online platforms, including the Paul Giambarbra website, the Impossible Project, and the Polaroid of the Day.
Connect with Stefan Merz on Instagram!
Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it:
I shot my first Polaroid in the mid 80's when I was a child. It was totally fascinating to watch the development of the picture. It was a magic moment. But Polaroids where expensive, so my family was more into 35mm film. After starting with photography in 2007 (digital at this time) I've missed something in my work so I've got back to 35mm film first, than up to medium format, and started with Polaroids in 2010. Polaroids are small unique pieces of art if you use it in the right way. There is no chance of post processing etc. so I have to think first and create a scene and then pull the trigger to create the photo I had in mind.
What attracted you to Expired Film. What's your favorite to use?
It's all about the look! I love the color-shifts, the soft tones, and the imperfection of the expired films. Each pack of film is a little surprise (unfortunately not always in a positive way). My favorites are well stored Polaroid 669/559/Type 59/Type79 and 809 but, I also like the Type54 B&W film!
How do you describe your work and how do you decide what subjects to photograph? What sorts of things capture your attention?
Well, I'm a nude art photographer, so the decision of my subjects is very easy. I try not to get stuck in one style and change the way I work from time to time. Some people think it's bad for an artist not to have one style but I'm a freelance artist, so I use the style that fits best for the scenery I shoot. That’s why I always travel with a trunk full of cameras and different films. I love this kind of challenge.
What are the main difficulties and hurdles obtaining and using expired film in this format?
The most difficult part of using expired film is to find a good source for it. Unfortunately, the times where you can buy a lot of films on Ebay are definitely gone. Most eBay sellers don’t know what they are selling or can't give information about the storage. Also, prices have risen extremely since Fuji stopped production of the instant pack films FP-3000b and FP-100c.,
But if you've found a good source for films (like photo-studios, who have old stock in their storage rooms etc.) it's relative easy to work with. Most of the time the speed is a little bit lower so I rate my Type 669 to ISO 50 and then fine tune my settings a little bit if the the results are not satisfactory. The color shifts of the film sometimes do not fit the scene you are shooting, that’s a problem if you didn’t use a camera with changeable backs like the Polaoid 600SE.
What types of Instant Cameras do you own? Which One is your favorite and why?
If you would ask my girlfriend I definitely own to many cameras, but is this possible??? Each camera is different, has another type of film, some are more versatile, some are special (like the Macro 5 SLR). I could never own only one camera.
- Polaroid 600SE with 127mm lens
- Polaroid 180
- 2x Polaroid SLR680 (one for B&W, one for Color Film)
- 1x Polaroid SLR680 Studio Mod (fixed f8 + infrared Filter in front of the internal flash to trigger the Studiolights)
- Graflex Speed Graphic with Aero Ektar 2.5/178mm (for 4x5 and sometimes also 3x4 Film)
- Plaubel Peco Profia 8x10 (for 8x10 Polaroids / Impossible Project)
- Polaroid 110B with Instax Wide Back (self-made)
- Polaroid SX70 Sonar
- Polaroid Spectra
- Polaroid Macro 5 SLR
And a lot of plastic Type 600 Cameras friends gave me (“look what I've found at my grandma's house, I'm sure you like it….”). I love and use all the cameras listed above (except the Macro 5 SLR and the plastic Type 600, these are only decorations).
Any tips for those interested in experimenting?
Unfortunately not! I would not recommend to anybody to start with expired Polaroids these days because it's to hard to find, to rare, and to expensive. It is highly addictive. I am an Polaroid addict and I know what I'm talking about!
Now seriously: the freshest date Polaroids you can buy are expired 2009, That’s 8 years old now, and with each single sheet of film someone shoots in the world, the stock on the free market shrinks a little bit. Time is against us because the batteries in Type600/SX70 film are limited in lifetime, and the chemicals are drying out. So the current time for experiments in instant film is really not the best.
If you are insane enough to start in 2017 with Polaroids, you have to live with the fact that a lot of “always stored cool but can't test it…” material on eBay etc. are dead packs of film with dried-out chemicals, so it can easy happen that you waste a lot of money before you take your first real Polaroid. I had the luck to build up my stock of films when Polaroid films were relatively cheap and fresh (because Fuji produced good and cheap FP-100c at this time), so I can shoot original Polaroids for some time. But the end is near! I realized that my proper stored stock is dying slowly in my fridge so I have to use it in the next 2-3 years before they die completely.
When you are not shooting expired Polaroid film, what film are you shooting and why?
Easy answer: fresh Instant film and sometimes normal B&W/Slide/Negative-Film. I work a lot with Impossible Project Film (for Type600/Spectra/SX70 and 8x10) and had the chance to test some of their Beta films. They have made make big steps forward with there R&D and I love thier films. I also work with Instax Wide in my Polaroid 110B but its not the same to me like the original Polaroid films. Results are too clean to be artistic but nice for normal photos.
Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?
I follow a lot of instant photographers on Instagram etc, to many to list. each of them inspire me in a subtle way. If you are new in Instant Photography (or long in the business and didn’t know it), I could highly recommend the Facebook Group “The Polavoid”, founded by Britt Grimm Valentine. It's the best group for Polaroid pro's and newcomers.