Polaroids; Emulsion Lift of Durdle Door Images

I went to Durdle Door and took some fresh polaroids that I’ve now used for an emulsion lift. I’ve used Impossible black and white film and a Polaroid 600.

The original images…

Original polaroid no.1
Original polaroid no.2


Very basically I cut as close as I could to the edges of the image, peeled off the clear plastic that covers the front of the polaroid, and then I put the polaroid into very hot tap water. The first thing that seems to happen is a white cloudy goo appears on the front of the image. That dissolves.

These bubbles form and then white goo forms that lifts off. The edges are starting to lift here.

The edges of the image start to lift up quite quickly. I used a small paintbrush to help the emulsion lift away from the backing, but it’s quite fragile and easy to tear. When the emulsion actually lifts off there’s the hard bit on the back and the delicate emulsion bit which wants to curl up on itself.

The back bit is the negative and is covered in flaky white stuff (titanium dioxide). This washes off the back easily – but apparently if you leave the emulsion lift too long then it’s difficult to remove.

The negative of polaroid no.1 covered in flakes of Titanium Dioxide

However, I found that flakes of titanium dioxide were also stuck to the back of the emulsion and I just couldn’t remove it from that. I tried hot water, I tried cold (with ice) to see if that would shift it. I just couldn’t move enough of it. I think that I’ll try to do the lift sooner next time as according to a quick bit of Google research it’s because I left the polaroids too long (just over 24 hours).

The emulsion of polaroid no.2 with titanium dioxide flakes stuck to it. I couldn’t remove it all.

When I washed the black bit I could see it was the negative. I have ‘Polaroid the Missing Manual’, and the advice was to wash this in a bleach solution, which I did. I hadn’t thought about it in advance though. I didn’t know what I’d be left with – I’d only been thinking about the emulsion. So I’m not sure if washing the negative has stabilised it as now (several hours later) both have curled up and look faded; maybe I didn’t use a strong enough solution? I didn’t measure anything out, I just guessed so I’m not too worried, but it’s something I’ll find out about for next time.

The negatives…

When the emulsion part lifted I took it out of the hot water and put it into cold. Apparently this stops it stretching. It did seem to stabilise it and helped to stop it curling in on itself. It’s quite tricky to handle though. I soaked some watercolour paper for a minute or so and when I felt I’d removed all the white flakes I could I eased the emulsion onto the paper.

This is the result…


I think the image of Durdle Door has worked well. The flakes of white on the back ruin the texture so that’s annoying. The view from Durdle Door to Man O’War isn’t as good, but then the original image hadn’t worked as well either; there just wasn’t enough contrast. Apparently the contrast in the negative can be increased by bleaching the negative several times, but that might just be on colour film. Again, something to experiment with.

I think perfecting this process is about practice really. That’s not easy because the film is so expensive that I think very hard before each shot. I wish I could do something similar with the Fuji Instant film, but several tries tell me that’s not going to happen. I need to work out what’s happening to the negative and how I stabilise it properly, as it looks like the negative has more detail than the polaroid itself so it would be great to increase the contrast of it, scan it and see what I can produce using that.

Published by Sarah Cassin Scott


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