Monday, July 30, 2007


Here's some interesting links:

Noorderlicht is a Dutch arts organization that runs a photography festival, an online gallery, and published books. There's some really interesting work on their website.

Light Research is a website of online photo galleries, reviews of photo books, and lots of interesting articles on a variety of photography-related subjects.

Ubuweb is one of the best websites I've seen. It's a huge repository of avant-garde art objects, sound recordings, and other interesting things.

Where do I start? The Internet Archive's goal is 'universal access to human knowledge'. Here you'll find tens of thousands thousands of music concerts, lectures, texts, etc. for free and legal download. The amount and scope of their materials is staggering.
Don't miss my favorite part, the amazing Prelinger Archives of ephemeral film.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Making Polaroid lifts

Here’s a few photos taken in my cluttered basement workspace while I was doing the final section of the Polaroid lift panorama seen in the last post.

These are the basic tools I’ve used for the lifts. An old slow cooker on the left to hold the hot water and keep it at a constant temperature, darkroom thermometers to check the temperature of the water (I get the best results with water between 140-150 degrees F), and at the lower right, an old baking pan filled with cool water.

After soaking the Polaroid print in hot water until it starts to bubble off of the paper backing, the print is transferred to the tray of cool water and carefully peeled off of the paper. This photo shows me discarding a large gob of gelatin from the print.

The gelatin removed from the Polaroid print.

The thin and delicate photo emulsion is floating in the tray of water. Here, I’ve put the panorama in progress into the tray to capture the last image. If you look carefully, you can see the photo emulsion floating by my fingers.

After capturing the emulsion on to the paper, I use one of the brayers seen in the background to smooth it out and eliminate air bubbles. The emulsion is very soft and malleable at this point, in this photo I’m pushing the bottom edge of the lift up a little to add more texture.

The finished panoramic lift. You can see it more clearly in the previous post. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The last Polaroid lifts...

...For now, anyway. Here’s the last of the panoramic pieces I made. Just finished it yesterday. This one was a real pain in the butt to make. It’s made from five separate Polaroids, but it took eight photos to make it. Three of the photos fell apart when I was doing the lift, so I had to reprint the ruined photo, wait 24 hours for it to dry, then attempt another lift. As a result, this one took over eight days to do.
I think it turned out pretty well, despite the problems.

Here’s a couple of single image lifts I made while doing the panoramas.

The first one is a photo taken at the Exhibit Museum in Ann Arbor. The second one was taken at the Field Museum in Chicago. I really like them both, especially the second one. That one is being used in a promotional brochure about upcoming events in the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Moraine Valley Community College, where I teach. I’ll be doing a post-sabbatical exhibit at the gallery there next spring, March 27-April 17.

I might return to Polaroid lifts, but I want to start working on some other processes first. I’m about to start making large negatives on my printer, to use for alternative process printing. I’m planning on starting with cyanotypes, but want to start working with gum bichromate as well. I’ve got a lot of negatives made with my Holga and Nishika toy cameras (see earlier posts for some examples), and want to use some of those images to make my digital negatives.

In other news, I’m going out of town for a few days. I’m going to Ann Arbor. The huge Ann Arbor Art Fairs are this week. My mother and sister exhibit at this fair, and I go to help them run their booth. It’s always a fun time, I get to see old friends from when I lived in Ann Arbor. This time, I’m planning on going back to the Exhibit Museum to do some more shooting as well.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Polaroid Lift Panoramas

I’m close to being finished with Polaroid lifts, at least for a while. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been making multi-panel panoramic images with them. I’ve got six of them completed, and one more which will be finished in a few days. I want to start moving into non-silver printing processes, so I will be getting into some research on making digital negatives soon, and putting work with Polaroid porcesses aside.

These panoramas were interesting, but they didn’t turn out quite like I expected. I’m going to post all of the panoramic lifts I’ve made, both the ones that work and the ones that don’t.

First, one that I like.

This is probably my favorite of the panoramic lift images. Everything works well with this one. The separate photos combine together well. The expected distortions are present, but not so much that they distract, and there is a good rhythm to the piece.

Now one that doesn’t work.

This one is a good illustration of one of the things that haven’t worked as well with these pieces. Basically, the geometry and perspective present in the original photos gets lost in the busyness of the lift images.
Take a look at the original panorama I made from the photos I took with my digital camera at the Field Museum:

The strong 2 point perspective and the advancing center section (the display of the antelope) work really well here. In the Polaroid lift piece, however, the sense of perspective is minimized, it seems too busy, and it lacks a focal point (you can also see the tonal and exposure limitations inherent in Polaroid film, but that’s another issue).

I found similar issues with some of the other panoramic lifts.
With this one, I think the image is just too busy and detailed to make a good Polaroid lift. That it is made from more than one photo joined together just adds to the busyness.

Again, here’s the test image I made with the original photos.

I really like the presence of the display cabinetry in the original, but that is mostly lost in the lift image. The color is horrendous (Polaroid’s fault), the overlap in the center is distracting, but mostly, it’s just too busy. This is my least favorite of all of the panoramic lift images. I probably should pretend it doesn’t exist, instead of posting it for everyone to see. Then again, I want to share both the hits and misses as I work through these processes.

Now another good one.

This is my second favorite one. The geometry of the display cases is retained, and while busy, there seem to be a couple of different focal points to draw your eye in.

Two more to go.

This one’s not horrible, but it’s not great either. It has the same faults I discussed above, but to a somewhat lesser extent.

This one’s not bad. It lacks a strong focal point, but does have a strong panoramic feel to it that I like. It wouldn’t be a first pick to put in an exhibition, but If I needed to show it I wouldn’t be embarrassed by it either.

The final piece I’ll post in a few days, it’s still being made.

So, I made seven panoramic Polaroid lift pieces. Assuming that the one still in progress is a good one (I think it will be), that makes three or maybe four of them I like well enough to consider putting in my show next Spring. That’s roughly half, give or take a bit. Not surprising for anyone who works in the arts. While it sounds bad, a 50% success rate is pretty good for photographic processes. I tell my students to expect to use two or three sheets of photo paper to get a good print. To put this in perspective, consider that I made lifts of seven different panoramic scenes, but the day I shot these at the Field Museum, I shot twenty-six separate panoramas (96 individual photos). Twenty-six edited down to seven, of which three or four ended up working. Of course, I’ll probably revisit these panoramas when doing inkjet transfers. Might end up using a few more.