Monthly Archives: February 2011

Instant Film Emulsion Lift

Here’s a step-by-step of my new favorite technique, the instant film emulsion lift. It’s a lot easier than it looks, so bust out some of your not-so-favorite instant film pictures and practice until you’re proficient. My instructions are modified from eggzalky’s blog No Such Thing as a Wasted Polaroid. Go check it out because it’s really, really cool and filled with creative images and ideas.

This technique doesn’t work with all films. It will NOT work with the new Fuji Instax format (it’s integral film) and I haven’t had any luck with Polaroid 600 film either, although you can do negative transfers with this film (that’s a process I haven’t tried yet). I’ve used TIP’s Color and Monochrome films for my projcets because I’m saving my last packs of Polaroid SX-70 for manipulation.

I have used all kinds of images for this process from pictures with well-defined subjects to abstract, badly-exposed, crystallized shots. I’m waiting to use my best pictures until I get better at doing this.

Gather your supplies. You’ll need a pan to hold some hot water, scissors, watercolor paper and a paintbrush. Pretty simple.

Fill your pan with the hottest water you dare to dip your fingers in to. This is key to getting a good lift. Then prepare your picture for the process by trimming the sides and peeling it apart, like this

Some sites recommend trimming the sides off so that there’s no white left. I prefer to leave a little bit of white on because your emulsion will have a distinct edge to it that makes a nice border. That edge is also tougher and less apt to rip apart during the manipulation process.

Very fresh instant pictures do not peel very well because the layer of chemicals (the white stuff) is still wet so make sure your pictures are dry before peeling. Twenty-four hours usually does the trick. If you’re having trouble getting the layers to part cleanly, it’s probably still wet.

Next, take the piece with the image on the front and the white chemically stuff on the back and submerge it in your hot water.

Gently, using your paintbrush, swish the area above the white layer around so that it begins flaking off.

If your pictures are too old, the white layer will stubbornly refuse to budge. I tried this once with a picture I had taken last year and all I succeeded in doing was getting the picture wet. Bummer. The fresher the picture, the easier these chemicals will release.¬†The water temperature is also very important. It doesn’t matter how fresh your photo, if the water isn’t hot enough, you’re going to run into trouble.

When most of the white stuff is gone you’ll be left with the emulsion stuck to the clear mylar coating that normally separates the outside world from the guts of the Polaroid.

Using your paintbrush, a toothpick or your fingernail, gently coax the edges of the emulsion away from the mylar.

When the two pieces are separated you can remove the mylar from the water and toss it. Now you have an undulating blob of emulsion. It’s fragile but easily manipulated by swirling the water around it. It’s like a photographic jellyfish. Don’t forget to flip the image over before placing your paper in the water because it’s been sitting face down through out the process.

Introduce your watercolor paper to the water by gently sliding it in below the emulsion.

You can see in this shot that I ripped this photo but that’s cool. I’ll work around it and make it part of the image. From this point you can manipulate the shape of your emulsion on the paper underwater. Use your trusty paintbrush or handy-dandy fingers. When you get the lift generally where you want it, slowly slide the paper from the water. It’s going to move around when you take it out so be prepared, but you can hold down the two sides of the emulsion with your thumbs to keep it somewhat in place.

Here it is fresh out of the water. At this point you can continue to manipulate the emulsion with your paintbrush, use your fingers to smooth the surface and create texture by gently tracing circles or lines on top of the image. If at any time you don’t like what’s going on, simply immerse your photo and paper in the water and reposition it.

Here’s the finished product. I decided to pucker the ripped areas. I also smoothed and stretched the image then gently swirled the surface to create a little bit of whirlpool-like texture.

That’s it! Hang it to dry then put it under a big, heavy book to flatten it out afterwards. You can transfer your emulsion onto almost anything, again, check out No Such Thing As A Wasted Polaroid for a look at some beautiful artwork featuring this technique.


Thank God for the Arts

It’s been one hell of a week, but yesterday really set me over the edge. I’m going to give you the dirty details and it might be TMI so be warned.

Thursday evening, as I was in the middle of my second twelve-hour shift in two days, my husband calls to inform me our middle daughter has lice for the second time in one year. Last summer after horse camp, a funky riding helmet was the source of our first experience and I really wasn’t looking forward to all the laundry, hair-washings and comb outs we were going to have to endure over the next few days.

After my irate husband called me to inform me that our doctor’s office had given us the run around (the front office there is more inefficient than the MVA, I swear to God), I had to go to my sources in the Emergency Room to get a prescription for the ‘nuclear option’ of lice shampoo (big fat thanks to my girl Kerri in the ED!!!!!). After treating both of my daughters with this stuff (that smells like Pine-Sol on acid) we stripped their beds and threw anything soft and cozy into the dryer to kill the bugs & eggs.

Yesterday—I went to get more prescription stuff and it’s OUT of STOCK. May have to wait until Monday to get what we need to get the job done. Meanwhile, I spent four, count ’em FOUR hours (240 minutes) inspecting two heads of very thick and long hair. My shoulders are sore and my patience is very thin.

I decided the girls needed their hair cut before the next medicinal bomb; no dice. No one will (understandably) touch them because of the lice. Screw that dude, I took matters into my own hands and cut their hair by my own damn self, something I haven’t done since my children were less than a year old. I have to say, my hair styling skills aren’t the best, but they’re not half bad.

Now I KNOW we’ve all had similar unmentionable things happen to us and I’m going to mention them now because it’s about time someone said them out loud (maybe it’ll break the curse, you know?) Here comes the TMI part…. in the past two years we’ve dealt with bed bugs (Thanks, NYC for the gift that kept on giving!), fleas (courtesy of the ‘cat that came with the house’) ants, which never really go away but just kind of hibernate in the winter (Terro Ant traps work really well) and lice. I’m sick and effin’ tired of critters. Really. We never had to deal with this crap in Baltimore. Sure there were the occasional alley cats, punk-ass kids and my favorite, Mr. Glass-Pack Motorcycle who LOVED to rev his louder-than-Fenway-Park-during-the- 2004-Series bike at 2:30 am, but they didn’t require any real investment of personal time to get rid of. No, they just were.

We finally get to the crux of this post. I am tired and stressed out. The house is a fucking mess. There’s crap everywhere, dishes in the sink, laundry on the sofa and to top it off I wasted a phenomenally gorgeous day inside. That really pisses me off. I wanted to run outside. I wanted to go to the beach. I wanted to take some photos. I did NOT want to spend the day inside. So, how does a girl bust this stress? The arts.

If you’ve read my bio you’ll know I’m a musician. It’s been something that’s been an important part of my life since I was itty-bitty. I remember going to sleep to classical music when I was just a wee girl. I started playing the flute when I was nine and have always dealt with stressful things by listening to a great piece of music, really loudly, over and over and over again, or going to the practice studio and pouring myself into the latest piece I’ve been trying to master. I was able to play the piano last night to get the stress out and it felt great. My hands are a little sore this morning (I always seem to play much more than my muscles will allow) but mentally, I am more balanced.

I love to improvise. It takes me to another place, just like finding a beautiful object to photograph or meditating on the ocean can get me out of myself. I really needed that last night and I am thankful to all the other musicians and artists who came before me. Thank you musical cosmos, thank you photographic cosmos. My day is better and my life is better because of you.

I promise a more photo-centric post next week ūüôā


Don’t Leave Home Without a Camera–EVER

We’ve all heard this advice, but how many of us follow it? You never know what you’re going to encounter in your daily travels because truth is always stranger than fiction.

Before I got my iPhone I occasionally  packed a Holga with me, but only when the potential was there for a cool photograph (trips to the beach, museums or a new town or city). Now that I have my iPhone it is the camera that is always with me and I do mean ALWAYS. The film cameras come along, too, but only when I know the light will be good because most of them have really small apertures and no bulb setting.

I find myself looking at the world differently when everything is a potential photograph. Things that would be considered boring or mundane before suddenly appear as incredible lines, bursts of color or textural elements that you just wish you could reach out and touch.

In addition to the abstract, I’m always on the lookout for the odd, absurd or hilarious parts of life. Nothing makes me happier than coming across something that makes me laugh out loud, like this shot, taken while waiting for my chiropractor¬†to work her magic on my back. It made me think of all the slimy, spineless people you’ve ever run across in life. If you could just give them one of these, they’d be fixed (hopefully).

Then there are the moments in which you look up and realize how beautiful things are from below (that’s another blog discussion by itself). I love the chandeliers in the shop where I get my hair cut so, I snapped this shot (ha! no pun intended) the last time I got a haircut.

Some of my best artsy-fartsy shots have come from perfectly ordinary mornings in which I was just running errands and happened to come across something beautiful. My ‘Flooded’ picture is the best example of that. It won an award last year.

I came back with these lovely images after a morning trip to the post office with my son. It was foggy and became foggier as we reached the beach. Our spontaneous walk lasted a half hour and was magical.

On a warm early autumn evening, while driving to the soccer field to pick up my daughter, I had to stop the car and get these images of the lovely (and slightly enhanced) sunset. In real life, the colors were spectacular and I liked the way the Berry Pop flash (in Hipstamatic) saturated the blues and pinks. It’s a pretty accurate representation of the sunset as I saw it because the real-life sunset colors and shades popped in the same way these enhanced tones do.

You never know when you’re going to run across that award-winning scene or that snippet of life that makes you laugh out loud.¬†If you don’t do it now, start making it a habit to carry a camera with you because (here comes another piece of advice I know you’ve heard a thousand times) the more pictures you take the better you’ll get. Don’t be afraid to stop and snap the picture, either. As I learned a few weeks ago there are always going to be folks who don’t like what you’re doing but that should be their problem, not yours.

Now, go and snap away!!


Spinner 360

Panoramic photos are cool and so are sprocket holes that show in your 35mm pictures. How much better could it get if there were a funny looking camera that takes these kinds of pictures? Fortunately we live in a world where that camera is a reality—it’s the Spinner 360, released last year by the Lomographic Society International.

As soon as I heard about this camera I knew I wanted it but I was reluctant to part with $145.00 US (gasp!!) for a toy camera. Holy crap–were they serious? So began my quest to achieve enough Piggie Points to defray some of the cost.

Finally, as Christmas approached I had about $100 worth of points and my dear husband proclaimed it my Christmas present (YES!!) so I finally got my hot little hands on it. I can tell you, it was worth every penny.

I can’t even imagine the R & D that must’ve gone into this thing. It is designed and constructed very well and is not your typical lightweight plastic camera body. ¬†The Spinner feels much heavier in your hand than a Holga or Diana, probably because there’s a fair amount of metal on this camera.

First, the kind of boring stuff. You already know from it’s name that you’ll get a 360 degree shot. Vertical angles are 66 degrees. When loaded with a 36 exposure roll you can get approximately 8 shots, which you’ll have to keep track of on your own as there is no film counter. You’ll need a bright, sunny day to use your Spinner as the shutter speed is somewhere between 1/125 and 1/250 and an aperture of f/16. For night-time or low light shots you can move the camera manually to allow each section of the frame to get more light. There’s a lovely tripod mount on the bottom of the handle and an all-important bubble level on the top to keep your horizons straight.

Since it’s not your typical camera, you really should read the instructions. To load the film you must remove the thick, black rubber band from the driver at the bottom of the camera that serves as it’s motor. Open the back for a view into the one-of-a-kind innards of the Spinner. The lens opening is a slit, not the typical circular shape. Load the film from left to right but be careful of the little black fabric piece that blocks light from hitting your already exposed film. After taking up the slack on the right, close the door, re-attach the black rubber band on the bottom and you are ready to shoot.

There are many, many techniques you can use to get some crazy 360 shots. Because the weather has been so rotten this winter I haven’t had much of an opportunity to go out and play, so I’ve used the more traditional technique of holding the camera with my left arm fully extended and then pulling the cord with the right. If you don’t want your mug in the picture, don’t forget to hold the Spinner up over your head.

I’ve had such a blast with this camera! The Spinner is best at capturing things that are closest to the lens.¬†I love that, even with the camera as close as an arm’s length, your subject is still in focus. However after a certain distance, the subjects just appear really small. Don’t forget that if you want to take a picture of something that’s on the ground, just turn the camera upside down and pull the string–that way you don’t have to bend over or contort yourself into odd positions for the sake of a worm’s eye view.

I am full-on giving this camera a two thumbs up. It’s fun, freaky-looking and satisfying.



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