Most of the time, there's only one chance to capture a particular moment that there are no room for second thoughts. What you've photographed, is what you keep—with all the flaws and imperfections. To some, this might be limiting or discouraging but for Switzerland-based film photographer and film critic Reto Baer, this is exactly what makes shooting with an instant camera a magical experience.
In this interview, he looks back on how his interest with the instant medium, especially square format, started and shares surreal experiments, set in the frozen landscape of Zurich, captured with the Lomo'Instant Square.
Hello Reto! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I always describe myself as an "eye person". With me it’s all about seeing. I even titled a collection of my poems: “the invention of seeing". As a boy, I was fascinated by all kinds of images: drawings, paintings, photos, super 8 films, movies, TV. Most of all I was fascinated by photos, these frozen moments in time. Looking at my own black and white baby photos felt surreal. I could travel back in time and see myself as a baby even though I couldn’t remember a bit.
In 1969, when I was nine years old, my older sister gave me her old Kodak Instamatic camera. It made square pictures and I guess my love for the square format stems from that time.
After saving my pocket money for a couple of years, I bought a 35mm SLR camera, a Nikon Photomic F2 with a 50mm f1.2. I was 17 then. It was a wonderful camera but over the years I lost interest in photography. Until I bought a Lomo LC-A in 1999. That small compact camera rekindled my love for photography all over and I discovered the beauty of blurred pictures.
Before, I thought out-of-focus meant the photo was bad and to be discarded. With the Lomo LC-A I discovered a new way to take pictures and view them. In the years 1999 and 2000, I shot a picture every day and created a Lomo diary for the last year of the old and the first year of the new millennial. Now I’m 58 and a film critic. I also write about comics. Even in my profession, I’m an "eye person".
How did your interest with film photography start?
I switched to digital photography quite late. I think it was around 2009 or 2010. I even sold my analog Nikon equipment from 1977 which I still regret to this day. I should never have done that. Don’t ever sell your cameras, guys! Keep them even if you don’t use them. There will come a time when you want to use them again.
After many years of taking only digital pictures with new Nikon cameras and my iPhone, I stumbled about the Lomography newsletter on supporting a new Lomo’Instant Square camera via Kickstarter. That was some time last year. I was actually thinking about buying a Polaroid camera back then. But I hesitated because the Polaroid films are so expensive. I knew that the Fuji Instax films cost almost half but I didn’t like the Instax Mini format. For my taste, it was too small and it wasn’t square. Instax Wide wasn’t square either. Then came Instax Square films but I didn’t like the design of the Fuji Instax Square cameras. Eventually the Lomography version came and made me happy. In January 2018, I finally received my white Lomo’Instant Square and started shooting. I even started an own Instagram account only for these instant pictures. (And would you believe it? I also loaded my old Lomo LC-A with a new film and bought a used Lubitel 2—all within one month.) So, my renewed interest in analogue film photography is quite recent.
What sets instant photography apart from other format?
Instant photography is magic. It’s as simple as that. To look at the picture slowly appear on the white paper wakes the child in me. What will appear? Will the picture be as I envisioned it? Of course not! An instant photo is always a surprise. You can’t really control it. That’s what’s so great about it.
With digital cameras you can immediately check the result in the camera’s screen. If it’s not yet what you want, you take another picture and another until you are satisfied with the result. With an instant camera, you take one picture and accept the result whatever it is with all its flaws and faults. You actually start to love the flaws. And you don’t edit them digitally away after scanning the pictures. You leave instant photos as they are. It’s actually how we should love other human beings: just the way they are. But man, that’s hard, as some people can really get on your nerves. It’s easier to love instant photos unconditionally.
How was your experience shooting with the Lomo’Instant Square? What features of it do you like the most?
I find the Lomo’Instant Square very easy to handle. I like that a lot because you can be really quick. Sometimes I put the camera on the ground and don’t look through the viewfinder. That’s how I shot the dwarves. Most of the time I don’t even use the features and just snap away. But I do actually like the double and long exposures very much. They make the images even more dreamy.
Any favorite photographs shot with the Lomo’Instant Square? Please share the story behind it.
I love the frozen roses. A flower shop in the middle of Zurich has put hundreds of rosebuds into a fountain shortly before the temperatures dropped below zero. I also like the long exposure of the small waterfall because it turned out all blue. That reminds me of old movies when they actually used blue filters to indicate that a scene was supposed to be in the night. The double exposures were fun to do although not all came out as intended. But I like the ghostly look. For some reason or other I had a light leak in one film. In Seya’s portrait it looks as if a streak of her hair was dyed blue. For the two very last pictures I used the orange filter which surprised me with a great sunset mood. In reality, it was a grey day.
What do you like the most about shooting on square format?
I love the square format because it is unusual. That’s why I liked Instagram in the beginning best because back then you could post only square photos. I find it much harder to compose a square format and therefore more exiting.
Any tips on shooting with the Lomo’Instant Square.
The flash works best with only a little distance to the object or person. If you want to center your composition you actually have to see the object or person a little to the right of the center because the lens is to the right of the viewfinder. Otherwise, just experiment.
If you could take a photograph of any person with the Lomo’Instant Square who would it be?
I’d love to photograph French actress Léa Seydoux because I find that tiny gap between her two upper front teeth so sexy. And of course also because she is an amazing actress. But I have to admit I would want to take more than one photo of her.
To see more of Reto Baer's Lomo'Instant Square shots head to his Instagram.