CROM SCHUBARTH'S THREE WAY POLAROID CAMERA SHOW DOWN

I-1 with Color Frame Film.jpg

Too many cameras, too much film, too many choices.

That’s the problem I face each month as a member of one of the 12:12 instant film projects set up by Penny Felts a few years ago. The underlying challenge for the women in the 12:12 Project and the guys in 12:12 Men is to post a photo every few weeks in which we do something we have never done before. So for the June 12:12 Men theme of “Tribute to Polaroid,” I arranged to shoot with body painter Brenda Leach and model Justine Saba of the San Jose-based Human Art Collective, a group whose work I have shot at festivals over the years.  The concept I wanted to do was inspired by a picture done a few years ago by David Miller, a Los Angeles photographer, in collaboration with body painter Jamie Graden. The picture featured a psychedelic 1960s-style painted model taking a selfie with a Polaroid.

Everywhere I looked around San Francisco this spring, people were getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love.” So it seemed natural to do the 12:12 Polaroid tribute in that style, but with a color palette taken from the Polaroid rainbow stripe and adorning the model with iconic names from the company’s past. But what camera and film to use? In typical fashion, I decided to go with two of my workhorse cameras — Impossible Project’s I-1 camera and a Polaroid 180 I inherited from my late father, whose career as a Polaroid engineer started in the 1960s. I also had on hand a camera that I had just bought but hadn’t used yet, the new SQ10 from Fuji.

I keep going back to the 180 and I-1 for their manual modes that allow me to push into what could otherwise be very difficult natural light situations.  I was intrigued by the SQ10, being the photo gadget freak that I am. I figured it would be a fast and relatively cheap way to get test shots to help me, the painter and our model figure out the best way to proceed during our shoot, which was only four days before I was scheduled to post the results. When I asked Brenda how long it would take her to paint Justine, she told me, “Forever,” and it turned out she wasn’t very far off. It took five hours and ate up much of the natural afternoon light time I thought we would have. But it also gave us plenty of test shots along the way.

As the instant photos piled up, the results reminded me of conversations I had with my dad about Impossible film versus Fuji peel-apart. He tended to work on Polaroid film used for commercial work, like medicine and insurance adjusting, where getting the color as close to reality was important. When I first showed him pictures I shot on Impossible Project film, he told me, “That’s not the colors Dr. Land hired me to do.” He preferred the crisp accuracy of Polaroid’s peel-apart films that Fuji emulated in its instant films. The soft images and impressionist colors of Polaroid’s integral films that Impossible was trying to recreate (and so many shooters love) was inspired by Kodak’s films, he told me. He had experience with both because he also worked at Kodak while a student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

But I like both for different reasons. That made choosing which photo to post for June’s 12:12 theme quite difficult. In fact, I probably confused Brenda and Justine in the three days before posting because I changed my mind daily about which photo I would post. All three of my favorites accompany this blog.

The first one I chose was shot with the I-1 and Impossible Color Frame film. I even told Brenda and Justine when it first developed that I thought this shot was going to be the one I would post because the color of the frame randomly matched the subject quite well. But I had nagging doubts. The film muted the brilliant colors that Brenda had produced and didn’t have the kind of pop I thought would show her work best. So I changed my mind to a shot I did on expired Fuji FP100C film using the 180. The colors were very close to real life and I liked how they popped on the peel-apart film.

But again I had nagging doubts. Other than shooting with a fully body-painted model, what was really new about this shot? So I turned to the test shots I had done with the SQ10, a camera I had never used before the day of our shoot. I was definitely doing something new with instant film with those shots. So that is what convinced me to post the Instax Square photo the next day.

I know there are some who dislike the SQ10 because it is a hybrid camera that shoots digitally and prints on Instax film. I don’t have a problem with this because I also have enjoyed printing iPhone pictures on Impossible Project’s Instant Lab and 35MM film on peel-apart instant film with the Vivitar Slide Printer. Others dislike all Fuji Instax products. Some resent the fact that the company phased out its peel-apart instant film lines and stonewalled a group that proposed doing an Impossible Project-style rescue of the format. I fully sympathize with the second group and worry that the company is cashing in on what may be a passing fancy for instant photos by a generation that didn’t grow up with them. Boycotting a company that is finding a way to keep instant film alive, however, seems self-defeating.

After using the SQ10, I wondered how long Impossible can wait to introduce some of the features I like on the Fuji camera. They appear to have answered some of those questions with the One Step 2 camera they just introduced as they change their branding to Polaroid Originals. The big one is battery life. Any day I want to use my I-1 I have to recharge it. It drops below the level that it can power its ring flash within 24 hours and goes to zero power after a couple of days. The film counter is also rendered completely inaccurate when it needs to be fully recharged. My SQ10 so far has held a charge for at least a week, even after a lot of use and printing.

Impossible/Polaroid Originals boasts much better battery life with their new One Step 2 camera, which is nice. But it doesn’t have a lot of the sophisticated features like Bluetooth, the ring flash, autofocus and shifting lenses to wear it down, so longer battery life should be a given in the new point and shoot.

Tribute to Polaroid_SQ10.jpg

Another I-1 aggravation has been the lack of through-the-lens composition of pictures. The new One Step 2 apparently will have a similar parallax issue.  But I have gotten pretty good, through trial and error, at compensating for this on the I-1. I prefer, though, to be able to see what I am going to get before I shoot, like I can with the SQ10 and my other two Polaroid workhorses — the SLR 680 and SX70. I asked Impossible Project CEO Oskar Smolokowski about this on the day he debuted the I-1 at the Bloomberg Design conference in San Francisco. He told me that through-the-lens focusing would have cost another $1 million or so in design. He said he couldn’t afford to spend that on R&D at the time.

Another thing I like about the SQ10 versus the I-1 is that it doesn’t require juggling my camera in one hand and my iPhone in the other when I shoot manually without a tripod. I hope and trust that Impossible will address these three issues with the I-2, I-1 Gen 2, or whatever they call the next iteration of that camera. It won’t be a problem with the One Step 2 because there is no app to connect to a smartphone.

In the end, I like the I-1 a lot for its manual controls and I like the qualities of Impossible film for some of  my work. For that reason, I don’t think the One Step 2 will be for me, but I hope it is a big success that brings new Polaroid shooters on board. I also like the SQ10, in part because it is a new toy, and also because using it is closer to the experience I remember with the Polaroid integral film cameras I grew up with. I love the Polaroid 180 because it was my dad’s and because of the wonderful results I get from all of the peel-apart films, recently expired and very expired. In the end, I posted the SQ10 to 12:12 Men because it fit the requirement of using a new technique or tool each month. It also showed the contributions of my collaborators to best effect. But I won’t choose sides in the general debate about Polaroid, Fuji and Impossible cameras and films. I like and will continue to use them all, depending on what seems to fit the photo I am trying to capture.

I just wish somebody would figure out a way to produce new peel-apart film.


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Cromwell Schubarth is an instant film shooter whose dad was a Polaroid engineer in the '60s, 70's and 80's. He is also a tech editor and reporter in Silicon Valley and a member of the 12:12 Men's Project. Connect with him on Instagram!


NSFW Q&A: EXPIRED EIGHT /W STEFAN MERZ

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.


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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!