Featured Photographer: Julia Beyer - Our World In Flames

Dec 16, 2018 6:15PM

Michael Behlen

“The Glassmaker” - Expired Polaroid Time Zero Film - 2018

Julia Beyer’s world is on fire. She recently returned from a trip to Iceland where she used Expired Polaroid Time Zero film to create scenes that transformed the wilderness around her into psychedelic fantasies. Beyer has managed to capture one of the most beautiful locations on earth and turn it into a flaming dreamscape suitable only for an adventure from reality.The landscapes she captures are exquisitely flawed from the expired chemistry in the expired film she uses that echo the increasing reality of our world heating up. You can easily project that the surreal views she presents represent not only our dying world, but the need to escape the harsh truths of humanities’ grim future. The blue hues and golden flames that engulf the natural wonders she travels to exemplify the increasingly sparse true wilderness areas of our world that are slowly growing up in flames.

When asked about her experiences visiting Iceland this year in July 2018 she described the country as a place of pure beauty that is one of the last places on earth - raw and majestic, yet still vast and intimidating. She noted that because many of the regions of Iceland are not inhabited it is easy to feel like you are alone on this planet, however, this feeling fades when you start to notice how humans have permanently changed this land for the worse. After the initial shock of beauty, Beyer was left with feelings of sadness while observing the rapidly receding glaciers, mindless tourists littering everywhere and treading on delicate moss that will take years to naturally regrow. Though Beyer’s images transport us to these dark and mysterious places, she has no intention of us staying there. Beyer’s other artistic talents extend to music where she performs vocals in the Germany based dreampop band, Chandeen. Here, her melancholy voice is placed on top of dreamy trip hop synth backings that explore the sadness that is present even when the beats tell us otherwise. Beyer’s has been producing records with Chandeen since 2007, which is where she first encountered the world of expired Polaroid film. In 2008, French Polaroid photographer Emilie Lefellic filmed and produced the music video for “Welcome the Still” using various mediums including expired Polaroid film which upon its viewing, mesmerized Beyer with its unique and satisfying beauty.

In 2012, though she was preoccupied with her musical endeavors, Beyer began to have an artistic passion growing inside her to work with the medium of instant film. It was at this time that she recalled her exposure to the sensual and delicate pieces created by Emilie Lefellic and took the plunge into the instant film world. Though she would have liked this first attempt to be successful, she was met with the frustration of mediocre results from some of the first batches of the Impossible Project’s (now Polaroid Originals) Push! film. Not being one to give up, she persevered through the steep learning curve of using the Impossible Project film and finally started to shoot on a regular basis in the spring of 2014. Through this transition she realized that she began to look at things differently than before, using photography as a way to change her perception of the world around her. She told us that “Where I saw ugly skyscrapers before, I now see interesting geometric shapes. Where I saw a gas station in the night, I now see endless combinations of colors”.

“I don’t have any interest to capture the scene like I see it right before my eyes - then I could as well shoot digital - but I love to add another, dreamlike dimension to it through the (mostly) expired chemistry with beautifully flawed results.”

“Sólfar” - Expired Polaroid Time Zero Film - 2018

“Solitude” - Expired Polaroid Time Zero Film - 2018

It wasn’t until 2016 that Beyer finally had the opportunity to obtain packs of expired Time Zero, the film that sparked her love for instant film. During a tour of the Polaroid production plant in Enschede in the Netherlands, now owned and run by Polaroid Originals, she made the acquaintance of a friendly elderly couple who came to know Beyer’s love for the medium via her obvious enthusiasm. Though she received a curious frown from the husband, perhaps in confusion on why she would want such old film, she soon had boxes of Polaroid Time Zero film on doorstep. Beyer clearly remembers the day the package arrived as a monumental event in her photographic life. She promised to herself the moment she opened the package that she would only use the film for something absolutely special. Beyer soon realized this pact with herself and took a road trip through the Southwestern United States. This was her first adventure of turning monumental and well known scenes into surreal dream-like landscapes using expired instant film, and the photographs she captured those weeks have proved to her a meaningful reminder of her journey up until this point.

In the four years that have passed since Beyer began her instant film journey, she has become known for her unique photographic style utilizing expired Polaroid film stock. She has accomplished feats ranging from being published in Blur Magazine, interviewed on Analog Magazine to being featured on Polaroid’s Blog. In addition to her photographic accomplishments, she has recently been able to combine her love for music and photography into multiple projects. Her involvement in the music industry has enabled her to use her Polaroid creations as the cover images for the July 2018 Chandeen EP, Rouge, the May 2018 Phosphenes’ album, Find Us Where We're Hiding, as well as shoot promotion material for Laura Carbone’s 2018 album, Empty Sea.

“Horfur’” - Expired Polaroid Time Zero Film - 2018

Though Beyer has had much success, her stock of expired Polaroid Time Zero film is dwindling. As of today, she has just two packs left. The ironic part of her dying film stock is that though Polaroid Originals may have the research and development to recreate this iconic film, it can’t be produced anymore due to the toxic chemicals that were used when it was originally produced. It seems fitting that the medium she captured the disappearing Icelandic environment on, will soon be no more as well. When asked about her film predicament she shared with us: “My limited and dwindling stock of Time Zero film is rather giving me a feeling of great nostalgia. Things you know from your childhood or adolescence that are slowly disappearing, breaking, discontinued or lost. It's a feeling of inevitable imminent loss and mourning. Time Zero film often makes me wish to be able to time travel. I wish I had discovered instant photography sooner, so that I could have had more time to shoot this film and witness the transformation into The Impossible Project”.

In a way, all analog photographers can relate to Beyer. We have all witnessed the death of “old” products and the slower paced analog world for the sake of digitization. We have seen these changes in the way we communicate without friends and family, the devices we use to manage our time, and the technology that enables us to soon sleep in our cars while driving. These times may seem weary for analog technology on the surface, but we know that there is a growing movement of analog devotees who are rediscovering analog film and vinyl records and looking for a “digital detox”. Beyer knows this all to well: when she is not shooting film or performing music she is an employee at a media agency. She shared with us that “the work I do is quite the opposite of creative.” Analog and instant photography is Beyer’s much needed escape from the constant stream of junk on social media and her daily grind. She, like the rest of us, finds solace in analog technology as a way to cleanse her polluted brain and escape her daily digital grind.

Just like Beyer’s original frustration with expired instant film in 2012, this new obstacle won’t stand in her way either. Though her preferred film of choice will soon be no more, Beyer is ready to tackle the the next phase of her photographic career. Having already been exposed to working with portraiture through her work with musician promotionals and album covers, Beyer will intensify working with models through 2019. This new creative outlet will enable her to branch out from her once landscape dominant photographic work and use her experience with instant film to create new, but different, other-worldly stories made up of portraits of those who surround her. Julia Beyer is evolving just like the world around her, and though her world may be on fire right now, it is on fire with photographic passion.