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