Last weekend I was fortunate to be asked by Shape Arts to work with them on a one day residency as part of the Liberty Festival in Stratford. I’ve done portrait sessions at events before – see here but I wanted to do something a little more challenging than previously. I’ve recently been getting my head around doing emulsion lifts with Polaroids (now Impossible Project) so thought this would be a good chance to take it a little further.

Now the portraits themselves were pretty straightforward – Polaroid camera, click, image pops out the bottom. However, the new film isn’t quite instant instant, you need to wait 20-30 mins for it to develop and also to keep it covered and away from the light. Next is the emulsion lift process (detailed elsewhere in this blog). That takes a little time too. I did manage to take around 30 portraits in one afternoon, but it was a lot of work to get through the soaking in water, the gently teasing off of the emulsion and then the transferring onto paper. And the buggers take a while to dry too.

I ended up with a small crowd watching me dab away with a small brush at the edges of the Polaroid. Each one took about 20 mins, which is one step up from watching paint dry. I do think people enjoyed the tactile nature of it though – seeing a photograph as an object rather than a digital file to be blasted to the four corners of the Earth with a couple of clicks. Younger people particularly weren’t used to seeing photographic prints, let alone something that could be manipulated in water and re-positioned as a new and unique object.


Thanks to John for being my guinea pig for a practice session in the studio. The idea was to use one light (a narrow soft box) from the side and use my Lensbaby for the tilt-shift effect. I wanted the face blurred, but I also like the way the hands have been stretched a little, giving a sort of Nosferatu look to John.


Spent the morning at the Photographer’s Gallery with Heinz from  Impossible learning how to do a Polaroid emulsion lift.

This is the process we went through:

  • Use a craft knife (X-ACTO etc) to cut along the back and bottom of the Polaroid
  • Pull the sides away with fingers and/or a knife
  • Heat the back with a hairdryer – this improves the separation
  • Pull apart and wash away in hot water any white dye that has transferred from the negative
  • You are now left with a positive which needs to be agitated in hot water until the edges come loose. Use your fingers or a paint brush for this.
  • When the transfer has come away completely, slide a piece of acetate (OHP film or similar) underneath and move onto this surface. Use the brush to arrange the final image. You can go back to the hot water any time to adjust or start again
  • Press the image onto a surface – paper, tile, glass etc. The acetate will slide off  – don’t pull away as this might break the image.
  • That’s it.

This is the process of gradually and gently lifting the positive image away from the Polaroid surface.

This was my first attempt. A bit torn and wonky.

Taken out of the window of the Photographer’s Gallery – under exposed.

This was my most accomplished attempt, but actually I prefer my first, more damaged image. Note the text visible in the windows is from when I sandwiched in my folder of notes and it wasn’t quite dry. An unintentional text lift!

Now to try some coloured lifts.

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As I continue my travels with my broken camera I have been looking for more images that contain text – billboards, advertisements and included here, weather-worn canvases covering some old fishing boats that have faded words and numbers. I like the broken, disjointed results that throws up new meanings.


I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant and very brutal Blood Meridian at the same time as I created this image from a light leak at the end of a 35mm film roll. The two seemed to fit together. The line “They rode on” appears many times as punctuation between the bloody events in the story.