Capturing Nostalgia – Polaroid Emulsion Lift Transfers

Posted on Sep 30, 2013 in Blog, Projects

Equipped with Impossible Project instant film and a Polaroid SX-70 Camera, capturing nostalgia is not finished without the laborious emulsion lift transfer.  This process is done by ripping the Polaroid apart, wiping the glue off the back, heating the Polaroid in hot water to remove the emulsion & transferring to watercolor paper carefully with brushes.  The technique that I have used has evolved over the past year to achieve desired  results.  Note: If you do not have patience, never ever try this.  The first couple of times I did an emulsion lift, my results were not desirable…like anything, over time things for better.

Here is how the process is done:

Fill a tray with hot tap water heated to approximately 150 F. Fill another tray with warm tap water.

Immerse the dried Polaroid print face up in the hot tap water for 2 to 4 minutes. When small bubbles appear on the surface of the print, then it is ready for the next step. Different film requires different time in the hot water bath. Expired polaroid film requires longer time in the hot water bath as does black and white Polapan film.

Transfer the print from the hot water bath (after about 4 minutes or so) to the warm water bath and gently push the emulsion layer from the edges of the print to the centre using your fingernails. Carefully lift the emulsion and peel it away from the backing. Throw away the backing and place your receptor sheet (watercolour paper, rocks, wood, glass) in the warm water under the thin emulsion. The emulsion is very fragile at this point, so be careful not to tear the image. Gently float the emulsion layer on top of your receptor. Hold the emulsion lift by the corners and lift it in and out of the warm water a couple of times to remove the wrinkles and stretch the image. Allow the wrinkle free, stretched image to lay on top of your receptor sheet and lift the entire image and receptor out of the water bath.

You can begin manipulating the image by purposely causing wrinkles and tears to add texture and interest to the image. When you are satisfied with the placement and manipulation of the image on the receptor sheet, gently roll the image with a rubber brayer to remove air bubbles. Let the image lift dry overnight. Press the image under a press or under a large stack of books overnight to remove any lumps or waves in the receptor sheet.

Once the images is flat and dry, you can manipulate the image further by applying watercolors, pastels, marshall oils and pencils to further enhance the image.

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