Saturday, June 9, 2007

Polaroid Lifts

I’ve always liked the look of Polaroid lifts. The wrinkled, stretched look of these images with their irregular shapes is intriguing. I also like the look of the transparent, thin photographic surface that you get with them.
For a brief description of the process used to make Polaroid lifts, read this.

First, the slides. Using a slide printer is definitely the way to go. These devices basically take the image from a 35mm slide and expose it onto a piece of Polaroid film. Much better than shooting with a Polaroid camera, as you can remake the same image multiple times.
Daylab is the well known brand, but their machines are expensive. I found a Vivitar slide printer on Ebay for $70. It’s not as sophisticated as the Daylab, but it works fine.
I shot a roll of slide film as an experiment, and found an easy and effective way to get slides of any image. First, open the image in Photoshop and select full screen mode (which centers the image and puts a black border around it). Hit the tab key, and all of the tools, etc. will disappear. Load your camera with daylight balanced slide film, mount it to a tripod, and aim it towards your monitor. Make sure your camera aims squarely at your monitor, and that your monitor isn’t tilted. I didn’t even bracket my shots-I turned off the room lights, metered off the screen, and to my surprise, got a perfect exposure every time. I have a flat-panel LCD monitor, which I’m guessing made this much easier.

Now on to the transfers.
My first attempts were a disaster. I made two sticky, wadded gobs of what had been photographic emulsion. Then I discovered that the tray of hot water I was using had cooled significantly. I called it a night, and did some more reading on the process.
The next day, I tried using an old slow cooker to hold the water and keep it hot. This worked much better-too well, in fact. The first one I tried, the water was too hot, and the emulsion started falling apart, making it hard to control.

Here’s the result. Its an old slide of my mother as a teenager. I used Rives lightweight paper, which is a little thin for my liking.

The second lift I tried went much better.

I turned the heat down a bit on the slow cooker, and the image stayed intact. I was able to easily move it onto the paper, although two of the corners folded over and I was unable to move them without tearing the emulsion. It looks pretty good that way, though. The image is a blend of two unrelated photos done in Photoshop. This one is on Arches 140 lb. cold press, which is a great paper, but I’m a little unsure about the texture with these images.

Here’s lift #3. This image you might have seen in an earlier post.

The photo was made with my Holga camera in Chinatown. I scanned the negative, and manipulated the color in Photoshop before shooting the slide. There’s a smalll tear in the emulsion, other than that, it turned out fairly well. I used a piece of archival inkjet paper for the lift, which I didn’t like at all.

Here’s another lift made at the same time.

The more of these you do, the easier it becomes to control the image. Many of the crinkles, etc. in this one are there because I wanted them there. This one is a toy dinosaur on a magazine page, shot in my studio. The lift is on Arches 140 lb. cold press.

One more for now.

This is a display in the Exhibit Museum in Ann Arbor, MI. The curve in the image was done deliberately. I used Rives lightweight paper for this one.

I’m surprised how quickly this process was to learn. After only seven attempts (the five you see here and the two gooey lumps I mentioned earlier), I feel fairly confident about having continued success with Polaroid lifts. There is a lot of unpredictability-the emulsion kind of goes where it wants to, and fighting it destroys the image. That’s part of the fun, however.
There’s still more to learn, I’m trying different papers to find one I like that works well with the process. I ran some more slides through the Vivitar printer today, so that I can try some more lifts tomorrow.

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