Playing with Polaroid

My first attempts at Polaroid emulsion transfers.

To make a break from working almost entirely in black and white and to try something different, a couple of months ago I took delivery of a Polaroid OneStep+ i-Type camera and a bundle of Polaroid colour film.

Inspired by instant film work produced by friends and in exhibitions over the past year or so, I wanted to try for myself some of the techniques I’d seen. Multiple exposure mosaics, chopped up prints recreated as panoramas and various takes on emulsion lifts were all ways I’d seen that put an individual twist to already unique images.

I set out to seek subject matter that could be photographed from different angles or viewpoints for the images to be presented as emulsion transfers in diptych or triptych form or perhaps as a composite of overlapping images. What follows is the story so far, of where my experiments have taken me.

After building confidence in single-image emulsion lifts with test shots, I jumped in at the deep end and attempted a four-overlapping-image transfer onto watercolour paper. Due to the camera lens angle of view being considerably greater than that of the viewfinder, the amount of overlap was a lot more than intended . Indeed, what I learned from this attempt was that any overlap was near impossible and that tears in the emulsion were inevitable.

Four overlapping image emulsions – none line up correctly and all are torn!

On to my second attempt. This was to be a triptych. I decided to transfer the middle image first, then the left and finally the right. All was looking good until I tore edges of the final emulsion while manoeuvring it into place!

Tears in the third image – at this stage everything is still wet and was set aside to dry …

Although conscious that as instant film images, these were unique and thus unrepeatable, I was encouraged by the success of the process and cautioned to take greater care with my next attempt. Even in their torn state, the triptych had a charm and still worked albeit not as I had intended.

For the next triptych I decided to try where possible to photograph each stage in my process.

The three Polaroids to form the next emulsion lift triptych attempt.

Polaroid prints are made up of several layers held together within a frame. The front clear plastic has a gelatinous layer behind it to which the emulsion layer attaches. Behind the emulsion is a layer of opaque plastic which together with the frame contains the development chemicals after they are released from the base of the frame as the print is ejected from the camera. An internet search reveals many methods of separating the emulsion from the Polaroid print. I chose what seemed to me to be the simplest.

Cutting the image from the frame.
Gently peeling the opaque backing layer from the emulsion. Note the use of gloves! Allowing the image to soak in warm or hot water can help.
Allow the image to soak face down in a tray of warm or hot water. Use a fine, soft brush to gently loosen and remove residual chemicals from the back of the emulsion layer. Almost no actual contact with the emulsion is needed. As the chemicals are removed, the water becomes cloudy.
Transfer the emulsion, still attached by a gelatinous layer to the front clear plastic, to a second tray of fresh warm or hot water. After a little while the emulsion layer will begin to bubble and separate from the gelatinous layer. Gently brush from one edge to allow the emulsion peel off. Be patient, and very gentle as tearing can occur!
With the emulsion almost totally off, finish the separation in a large tray of clean, cool water. Discard the clear plastic and its attached gelatinous layer.

The emulsion can now be gently manipulated with a brush onto a piece of watercolour paper also in the water, hence the need for a large tray. I needed both hands for this stage so didn’t record my antics on camera! It can be tedious and needs patience to manoeuvre the emulsion into place and draw the paper out of the water such that the emulsion remains in place.

The emulsion will float free of the paper if any or all of it is re-immersed into the water, making the next stages of assembling my triptych rather tricky. (It is also why creating overlapping image emulsions was effectively impossible!)

My completed triptych, still wet, looking good.

I left all my attempts from the session to dry naturally overnight. A surprise awaited me next day …

Ouch! Tensions between the emulsion and the paper as they dried were clearly too much where damage had already occurred to the first triptych. Closer inspection showed similar tension damage along some edges on both.

The paper I had used was sized heavyweight hot press watercolour paper that I’ve used before for salt and cyanotype printing so I really didn’t expect any problems with Polaroid emulsion. If the emulsion is not sufficiently adhering to the paper it will be very delicate and easily damaged by the lightest touch. I decided to experiment with the application of a varnish.

I decided to apply Liquitex varnish with a soft brush to the remaining two emulsions on the first of my triptych attempts.
Using as light a touch as I could manage and with a minimal amount of varnish, I tackled the peeling corner first.
As soon as the liquid varnish contacted the emulsion, the emulsion began to lift from the paper in places and was easily dragged.
For the second triptych I determined to apply varnish to the edges only. It seals the edges of the emulsion to the paper well but I was unable to avoid dragging.

So that’s where I’m at. I have a process to successfully create emulsion lift diptychs and triptychs but so far have no obvious way of protecting and preserving them, other than perhaps behind glass in a frame. There may be something I’m missing or perhaps I could try mounting them on something other than paper (I have a lovely piece that I bought at an exhibition not long ago, created from instant film, painted and mounted on a plaster-of-paris base). I’ll be consulting those in the know!

Amongst the trees, in search of the woods

In search of inspiration, I took a camera to Fife for a walk around Blairadam Forest Trails.

Grey skies and flat light don’t make for interesting photography and were a frustration on a day that I’d had in mind to get out with a camera.

However the pull of being out with a camera was too great to resist. I packed a bag with my trusty Vivitar V3800n, 28m and 50mm Pentax-K lenses, a few cassettes of Kentmere 400 cut from a bulk roll and headed off to see where the road might take me.

In search of inspiration for photo projects, I’ve been browsing the rather useful website of Forestry and Land Scotland (formerly the Forestry Commission) where access, trails, facilities and points of interest are well laid out. The road took me to Fife and the forest trails of Blairadam Forest, to the west of Kelty.

With uninteresting light and no firm plan, this felt more of a reconnaissance trip in search of inspiration for a future visit, or perhaps I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees! I looked for compositions that pleased me but the negatives I came back with were as dull as the day. Some digital intervention to the exposures and levels was necessary. Here are a few of the better images made.