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.


CONNECT

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!


The History of Polaroid Chocolate Film

Images: Walter Sans, Netherlands

“Cross process or chocolate film began life as an accidental combination of Polacolor ER negative and Polapan 100 positive and reagent. This unintended combination produces a result where the silver from the colour negative transfers to the BW positive and the colour dyes in the negative "stain" the BW positive. This results in a chocolate brown image colonization (cooler in tone than sepia) and unusual suppressed highlights not unlike 19th Century albumen prints.  The deep shadows can solarize at times, producing an effect like no other photographic process. The results are stunning and Polaroid recommends that final prints be scanned to insure unlimited archival stability.” -- Polaroid 20x24 Film Brochure

Polaroid Chocolate 100 is one of the rarest films Polaroid ever made; because of its unique process it produces images starkly different from any other Polaroid film. The black and white/color cross-process method produces chocolate brown images with a warm texture and other special characteristics - as indicated in the brochure quotation above. Because I am preparing to shoot a series of Polaroid Chocolate 100 photos in Paris, based upon the works of French photographer Eugène Atget, I found while researching Chocolate film that despite being a unique and beautiful film there was very little written about it; so I decided to research its history. 

In late 2008, just prior to Polaroid's ceasing film production, Dr. Paul Telford from Polaroid management asked the Polaroid production factory in Queretaro, Mexico, to combine left-over materials into three limited run pack films: Chocolate, Sepia, and Blue film. Packaging design was created by Polaroid’s in-house graphic artists. All three films were some of the last ever produced before the factory was closed forever in 2009. Chocolate 100 had a very limited production run of 29,800 packs with an expiration date of October 2009. 

Images: Eva Flaskas, Australia

I asked Dr. Telford how Polaroid’s Chocolate 100 film came to be developed. He replied:

“The special runs of 100 series peel apart films came about as part of what was called "end of life" planning for the instant film business.  Because Polaroid was highly "vertically integrated" virtually all film components and chemicals were manufactured in house.  It was inevitable that as the end of production was reached there would be a mis-match of components and chemicals required to produce the traditional products.  Film production, planning, engineering and marketing representatives therefore looked at what could be done to both optimise materials usage and provide some viable and interesting products for Polaroid enthusiasts. Film production at this stage was already running at extremely high quality levels, due to the expertise and commitment of the relatively small numbers of people remaining in the business.  Their skills enabled the development, fine tuning and manufacture of the films.  Final selection of what was most viable was a judgement call based on image quality, stability and anticipated desirability.

Our relationship with Unsalable (later to become Impossible) was the natural choice for the distribution of these films since there was an existing connection with the key target market.  We had previously developed and manufactured other films which were exclusively marketed in this way.  They were never available through any other source.”

Exact final volumes produced were:
-Sepia        30,330
-Chocolate    29,980
-Blue        14,980

Dr. Florian Kaps who was running Unsaleable – later to be Polapremium, and the precursor to The Impossible Project – purchased all the film along with the limited production Sepia and Blue films. On Thursday, December 4, 2008 PolaPremium unveiled all three films for sale on its website. Dr. Kaps had commissioned famed Polaroid graphic designer Paul Giambarba to create new packaging for the three films, these were covers that slipped over the Polaroid packaging designed by Polaroid. All three films cost $16 USD per pack of 10 exposures and were available from the PolaPremium film shop; later remaining stocks were sold by The Impossible Project.

Polaroid Chocolate 100 and the other two special films, Sepia and Blue, were some of the very last films ever produced by Polaroid before it ceased production. Despite being produced nearly 7 years ago, these films still produce beautiful images and are highly sought after by photographers. 

Images: Philippe Bourgoin, France

The Polaroid Chocolate Process

Polaroid Chocolate 100 was made to replicate the Chocolate process which was already in use in 8x10 and 20x24 Polaroid films, in which a color negative was paired with a black and white developer pod, but in 3x4” peel apart film, making the unique process more accessible. Polaroid "Chocolate" was originally developed as a cross-processed method using the color negative from 809 film, and the positive from 804 black and white film. The result was about ISO 50 and produced images with a unique solarized, split-tone, sepia-like luminescence. The process was discovered by experimentation with Polaroid 8x10 film. Images were shot on color positives (809 or 879) and then processed using black and white negative development pods (803 or 804). 

Normally when you shoot Polaroid 809 film, you put the negative half in a Polaroid film-holder, expose as you would normal film, and then you slide the positive receiving sheet into the holder (for the earlier type of holder, which serves both as a film-holder and loading tray for the processor). The positive side contains the developing chemicals in pods just like smaller format Polaroid. When you run it through the processor, it breaks the pods and spreads the chemicals, as when you pull a sheet of Polaroid out of a 4x5" holder. So what you're doing with Polaroid Chocolate is using a color negative and processing it in B&W chemistry. The color dyes developed in B&W chemistry migrate from the negative side to the positive side, forming the brown image on the positive receiving sheet. The same process used in the reverse order creates the wonderful cross-processed look favoured by photographers Paolo Roversi and Cathleen Naundorf in Paris.

With Chocolate 100 film the same process was used except in the 3x4” peel apart film format:

“By exposing the color negative and then processing the exposed negative with a B&W developer pod and B&W positive receiver sheet. The result would be that you would get silver developed in the negative and undeveloped silver dissolved and transported to the positive sheet where it would be developed on the nuclei there to form a B&W positive image. This is basically the normal instant B&W process but with the color negative the resulting image is not a neutral black but more brown. 

What makes this different from the standard B&W film is that the color negative has the three image dyes (yellow, magenta, and cyan) which are normally not there in the standard B&W negative. So, with the color negative the image dyes can migrate to the positive and "contaminate" the B&W image there. Also, the image-wide control of the dye diffusion would not be as good as that in the full color system where the developer and positive receiver sheet have been optimized to work with the color negative. 

The result of all of these factors - the brownish B&W image process and the contamination of the B&W image with the color image dyes - gives the image the chocolate look.” - Stephen Herchen, PhD

The chocolate process became quite famous after being used in a series of photos for the December 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated, the cover of which was shot as a portrait in Chocolate film. The story featured a series of NFL player portraits by legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. and Tracy Storer using an 8x10 camera and the chocolate process described above. Tracy Storer and John Reuter, the Director of Polaroid’s 20x24 Studio, also used the chocolate process to produce 20x24 Polaroid images.

Images: Dennis Peaudeau, France  

Polaroid Chocolate 100 Film Specifications: 
Production: Small run of 29,980 packs that expired October 2009.
Film Speed: ISO 80/DIN 20
Format: 3¼ x 4¼” (8.5 x 10.8 cm) pack film
Type:  Peel-apart Pack Film, medium-speed and medium-contrast coaterless
Image Area: 2.88 x 3.75 in. (7.3 x 9.5 cm)
Finish: Glossy
Exposures: 10 exposures per pack
Development Time: 30 seconds at 75°F (21°C)

SOURCES
•  Paul Telford, Polaroid
•  Dr. Florian “Doc” Kaps, Supersense
•  Dave Bias, Impossible Project
•  Stephen Herchen, PhD
•  John Reuter, 20x24 Studio
•  Paul Giambarba
•  Amy Heaton, Impossible Camera GmbH

 

ARTISTS
Walter San, Netherlands
Eva Flaskas, Australia
Philippe Bourgoin, France
Dennis Peaudeau, France

MORE INFORMATION
Polapremium
Packaging design by Paul Giambarba
Original Impossible Project Sale Page 2009                                                                                           (Recovered 2015)