Featured Photographer: Bastian Kalous’s Expired Polaroids of an Eternal Land
German photographer Bastian Kalous has a habit transporting us to enchanting larger than life locations that we could only dream of visiting, that happens to be just outside his doorstep. The scenes he captures are a distinctive hybrid between breathtaking landscapes and intimate self-portraits that creates an instantaneous portal from his world to ours. This connection has allowed us to explore and experience stunning mountain peaks, enchanting vistas, and cold frozen forests that seem more like our own memories than photographs due to his innate ability to work with long expired Polaroid film stocks. Bastian has been able to master and tame the unpredictable nature of these long expired films and harness their magical colorful properties to bring the transformative properties of nature right to our doorstep.
Bastian’s intent in bringing you into his world isn’t a self-indulgent one, he aims to inspire you to get out and explore the world around you, with or without a camera, with the goal of immersing yourself with the gentle noises of the wind, the distant chatters of animals, and the silent knowledge of the mountains that have been standing since time immemorial. He truly believes that the wild nature of our wilderness areas can tame our souls and provide us real-world health benefits that can only be experienced and never told. He shared with us that “There is a hectic nervousness out there in the cities, the villages, and our workplaces because individuals don’t take the time to experience and explore the meditative essence of nature”. Bastian has intimate knowledge of this mindset that we have all experienced: the feeling of subconscious oppression that dwells within us from our homes located in the metropolitan centers of the world. However, his relationship with these feelings was an inverse one. For the majority of his life has wanted to escape too this feeling, not from.
Born in 1980 in Freyung, a rural town nestled between the Czech and Austrian borders with a population of just 7,300 people in southeastern rural Germany, the lack of youthful and modern activities weighed on Bastian’s mind throughout his adolescence. Though his home town was small, the wilderness areas surrounding it was not. Just 10 minutes away lives the Bavarian National Forest, Germany’s first national park with 93 square miles of nature preserves. However, like most young men and women, 93 miles of nature doesn’t sound that appealing. Although it was full of life, it could seem completely lifeless to the uninitiated young Bastian who had yet to experience its alchemical properties. Ignoring this huge natural playground around him, Bastian constantly dreamed of being somewhere else. Usually, a big city with interesting people and places, anywhere but his small rural hometown that only had mountains, forests, and lakes. Like a wolf trapped in a cage aching to run wild, he yearned for a place that would allow him to attend exciting parties, skate radical skateboarding spots, and participate in the adrenaline-filled adventures with his teenage companions in debauchery. Initially, he combated these feelings with around the clock skateboarding, rebelling against his communities natural beauty by surfing its paved streets and launching himself off it’s towering staircases. Skateboarding enabled him to channel his youthful creativity through a medium that could be applied to his individuality, riding and customizing unique skateboards and seeing his immediate surroundings as a canvas to be athletically painted on. The act of skateboarding itself was a place for Bastian to escape his small town prison by diving into a meditative mental state that set him free. It was fast, exciting, and modern, all of the things his small home town was deficient in.
“You don’t need anything else [besides yourself]. You don’t need a camera or even shoes. You don’t need anyone to accompany you. All you need is to be alone with nature”
However, as with all things, time and maturity find a way of sneaking into our worldly perceptions about the time we have on earth and what we plan to do with it. It took Bastian almost 30 years to realize the magical nature of the place he was lucky enough to be transported to upon his birth. Though we often have grand visions of what epiphanies look like, Bastian’s muse was a simple one: an image taken on expired Polaroid Time Zero Film by Raymond Molinar that he found in 2008. He described this moment to us: “…It is incredibly fascinating to see this type of photography, it was like diving into another parallel universe ruled by rich blues and heavy flames. This film is what set passion on fire for Polaroid photography”. Bastian immediately began searching for a way to obtain and shoot this elusive expired film. His search proved to be more difficult than he first imagined. At that time in 2008, Polaroid Time Zero had already been out of production for two years which meant it was becoming increasingly rare and expensive. Eventually, his perseverance paid off, he told us: “It was an amazing feeling when I finally held my first Time Zero image in my hands, I had been searching for it for so long that I had a feeling of excitement radiate throughout my body”. Through this experience, he began to realize that though the concrete jungle he was exploring had its benefits, the vast mountains and forests surrounding him was a completely new canvas that needed painting. He told us that “It’s like a button was pushed…. I think photography and my way of life melted into one thing [in that moment]”. In a quick but smooth motion skateboarding began to take a backseat as his addiction of choice. Bastian’s neurons had found a new pathway of creating those feelings of meditative excitement with the act of photography.
Since that magical moment Bastian has traversed hundreds of miles through the wilderness areas of the Bavarian Forest, Switzerland, and Berchtesgaden National Park, often with his dog Schoki in tow. Now instead of searching for the fast and loud things in life, he has transitioned to a “life more simple, one that is more relaxed” that allows him to “walk through the grass while feeling the wind”. He hasn’t just changed his recreational activities but also his way of life. Without diving too deep into the wild stories of his youth, he shared with us that he has “changed my eating, my drinking, and my thinking; maybe I have grown from [being] a boy to a man. A man who really enjoys living in his hometown and being surrounded by nature”. When he reflects about his adolescent urge to leave for the city he said “I am so happy that I was always restricted from moving to a big city, nowadays I couldn’t live there. I now love the fresh air and the places with fewer people”. This isn’t to say that Bastian doesn’t desire people in and around his life, as he values helping and caring for others in his career as a nurse, a job he has had for close to twenty years now. He shared with us that he often gets to instill the benefits of nature with his patients. He just wishes he could tell everyone that life in nature is one worth living. He tells them, “Medicine is helpful when there is already damage in the body. But nature can help you avoid this damage by teaching you to listen to your body in its natural setting. It can help keep you away from the hospital and doctors”.
Bastian lives by this creed and is constantly looking forward to his next adventure into the wilderness with his expired Polaroid film. He is continuously searching the landscapes surrounding him, traveling over peaks and through the snow, to capture the moments that allow him to escape modern society and experience that natural synergy of “both everything and nothing at the same time”. In single outings, he has traveled and hiked up to 20 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain with a backpack full of photography equipment including 4 lenses, a tripod, a light-meter, a self-timer, and of course a box full of film. He told us that his ultimate goal is to get to his hiking destination and that “It doesn’t matter how long it would take, I had all the time in the world [back then]”. He described to us the feeling that hikers around the world experience when they reach their final objective after a hard day of trekking: “My mind sets free when I [finally] reach an objective that I dreamed would look good through my lens, at that moment there are no houses, no cars, and no noise, it is just me and the image I am creating”. This nothingness allows him to feel everything the world has provided us through its natural wonders.
Although Bastian’s objectives are almost always accompanied by cameras, he insists that it isn’t necessary. He urges all people to go out and experience the feeling of accomplishment one gets when they return from an outing in a national forest or their small local park. “You don’t need anything else [besides yourself]. You don’t need a camera or even shoes. You don’t need anyone to accompany you. All you need is to be alone with nature”. He told us that the perspective someone obtains while spending this time in nature is a valuable tool for a life worth living. “Nature has always been with [us] humans. We are a part of it, and that’s why we need to spend time in it. Respect it and it will respect you [in return]“
Now 38, Bastian has spent the better part of a decade chasing the eternal beauty of our earth’s endless landscapes and capturing it with a wide range of photographic film. What started as a search for the elusive expired Polaroid Time Zero film has evolved into a love for all types of instant film. Through the years as his photographic talents have matured, so has his taste in film, as he has slowly worked his way through various Polaroid and negative formats on his nature expeditions. He shared with us that “It [all started] from my Polaroid Time Zero (integral film) addiction which was fast and simple to shoot. I soon started to shoot expired pack film like Polaroid Type 669 (pack film) in the more professional Polaroid cameras like the Polaroid 180 Land Camera”. After her mastered both integral and pack film formats he soon moved on to shooting large format 4x5 instant film like the beloved Type 59 and Type 79 Polaroid stocks which he shoots on his Ebony SV45TI camera. However, just as life’s circumstances change, so has Bastian’s ability to purchase the film he loves so much.
When he began this journey, recently expired and out of production Polaroid film was a lot easier to come by. You could still purchase it on eBay on a regular basis and the prices weren’t as astronomical as they are now. In the beginning, you could purchase a pack of a box of film between $20.00 and $40.00 dollars and have relatively consistent results. Now, in 2019, you are lucky to come across properly stored film that is 15+ years expired for about $100.00 dollars, that may not end up working at all. He shared with us that “In a way, it’s almost over for me [in obtaining] Polaroids. It was scaring me for a while and I was afraid. I started to think about why I was scared, and I realized that life goes on and so will my photography”.
As a community, we know that Bastian is right. We are reaching the end of the era that allowed us to capture our surroundings on expired Polaroid film stock that projected an alternative reality with it’s saturated surreal color palate. Though companies like Supersense’s Save Pack Film project and New55 are doing their best to save the film we love, it may be too little too late. We may only have the beautiful photographs that artists like Bastian Kalous have created and immortalized online to remind us of this unique time in photographic history. We are fortunate that Bastian has taken his love for these film stocks and used them in such an incredible fashion: showing us how wonderful the world around us is and inspiring us to live our lives outside, camera in hand, instead of inside in front of the computer screen. Through his efforts, he has truly become one of the greats of this niche photographic process and deserves all the recognition he has received. His work has been featured internationally in a wide variety of publications online and in print including Slate, Pellicola Magazine, and PRYME Editions and has been shown in galleries around the world. It is with great pleasure that we are able to show you his collection of expired Polaroid photographs that he has spent the last decade of his life creating. As the days of expired Polaroid film pass us we expect Bastian’s work to be included in permanent photographic collections around the world and for his work to gain even more traction as we start to look back at this special and unique era of instant film photography.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and backpacking in the California wilderness, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of Analog Forever Magazine. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!