impossible film emulsion lift process

i am currently working on my master’s project (thesis), which i’ve decided should include a lot of photography and art elements. over our recent spring break, i attempted (and succeeded!) to do polaroid emulsion lifts.

basically (as you will see below), this involves separating the image from the paper underneath it.

i used both fuji pack film (in a polaroid 340) and film from the impossible project in a polaroid 600 camera. i have documented the impossible project emulsion lift for you here.

professor wolff showed me this video which had a link to these instructions, which aided me in doing the impossible lift. of course, i modified them slightly as i went through (for example, the instructions say to lift the floating emulsion with a brush handle, but i felt that i had more control with my fingers.)

 here is my initial set up:

magazine (to cut on top of)

x-acto knife blades (you should probably use an entire x-acto knife but i couldn’t find mine.)

the polaroid

the first step in doing an emulsion lift with this type of film is removing the polaroid frame (the white part all around the image).

here is the image with the frame cut away.

the next step is to set the image in a bowl of hot water, so that is what i do next.

when the image is in the water, several things start to happen. first, the glue that held the frame around the edges of the polaroid starts to loosen. the function of the paintbrush on the bottom right of the image is to aid in removing this glue from the image.

the second thing that is happening in the water is that the emulsion is beginning to separate from the back of the polaroid. the impossible film has two layers underneath- a clear, rigid plastic, as well as a paper backing. the air bubbles underneath the image gave me an indication that the image was beginning to loosen from its back.

this is a close-up of the glue flaking off of the image. i opted to change the water after getting the glue off because i felt that it would get in the way when i removed the emulsion from the water and attempted to put it on to the receiving paper. i didn’t want it to cling to the image later on and travel with it.

after the removal of the glue, the impossible polaroid’s paper backing slid right off. i was left with the emulsion on top of the plastic layer. note that the air bubbles underneath the emulsion have become much larger than they were before

i was afraid to force the emulsion off of the plastic, so i used the brush to gently push it off. i think eventually i was a little rougher. the emulsion had a weird consistency- it was fairly slimy and jelly-like, but still a solid. its shape seemed almost ‘liquid,’ but i think that was because it was so thin. i took the last edges emulsion off with my fingers.

this is the plastic layer underneath the image, just in case you were curious as to what it looked like.

i had a bowl of cold water prepared, as the instructions had told me to do. cold water “stabilized” the emulsion and strengthened it. i don’t think it was particularly as weak as the video had made it seem, but i did not want to take any chances. i don’t have very good vision and it was difficult for me to work with the emulsion in this red bowl (it was too dark) so i ended up moving the image back into the white bowl that i was using in the first place. while the emulsion was in the red bowl, i drained the (now lukewarm) water out of the white bowl, refilled it with cold water, and transferred the image back into the bowl i was more comfortable with.

i spread the image out in the white bowl so that it looked like it was supposed to, instead of a rolled up mess. 

the paper next to the bowl with the image is my “receiver paper,” which means it will be the new “back” for the emulsion. my next task was to put the image of top of this paper.

for most of the lifts i did, i chose watercolor paper as the “receiver.” however, for this specific lift, i wanted the receiver to have similar lines to the image (me, lying against a wall with my back turned) as well as feel “cold” and “empty.” i chose a photo from a book on antarctica because it had sloping lines, and lots of water.

i picked the emulsion out of the bowl of water with my hands, four fingers spread out on each side, and carefully laid it down on top of the photo. i rolled the edges of the emulsion down so that they were flat, and i then used a sponge brush to push some of the water out from under the emulsion.

for the most part, i was surprised that the image was not as fragile as i thought that it would be. i ended up ripping it, but only slightly. when dry, the emulsion was completely adhered to the received.

the fujifilm peel apart lifts were extremely similar, but they did not have frames or glue that i had to deal with in the beginning. (the instructions on how to do this came from a pamphlet from polaroid, which i will take a picture of when i get home.) those images, however, were also a bit smaller than the impossible film results. i also had difficulty with the fuji lifts because they were resistant to “sticking” to the receiving paper. the emulsions are made of a completely different material- think more along the lines of rigid saran wrap than the more gelatinous impossible emulsions. i ended up having to apply a thin layer of modpodge underneath the film to get it to actually ‘stick’ to the watercolor paper that i used underneath them.

i thought these ocean photos were neat because i layered gold leaf on top of the glue before i put the emulsions down.

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This entry was written by picturesofmeghan and published on March 22, 2012 at 2:36 am. It’s filed under meghan's posts, Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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