Emulsion Lifts: An Instant Journey
By Tyler Tyndell
Here’s the deal. Apart from the 7D that I use for most professional jobs, I own one plastic 35mm camera which I’ve had the same roll of Tri-X in for months now and a hoard of instant film cameras and have never claimed to be a film enthusiast (It's hard to claim that when you’ve only been taking pictures for 2 years) For my purposes, ‘film’ entails the use of all other chemically developed materials other than instant film. I say that only because I am readily aware that I don't have the experience to be speaking about it knowledgeably. I am however, an 'instant film' enthusiast; using several varieties in my personal and professional work. I feel strongly that instant film should be referred to in a category all its own. Mainly for the purpose of not getting lost in the jargon and argument of other film discussion. Truthfully, I can't even say that I would be able to produce a standard acceptable print with a film camera. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll become more invested in it. As of right now all I need is my SX-70 and some Impossible film. Recently, I had the opportunity to expand more experience with instant film and learned less about what I had intended and more about following creative leads.
The reason that all of this came about is that I had my mind set on a particular mixed medium art piece that I am still currently battling with. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case however, creative necessity was the mother of trying to figure out how to get emulsion lifts to be removed from a surface once they were dried or partially dry. Thus, I began experimenting with several surfaces to dry the emulsion lifts on. After successfully lifting the first few on to the watercolor paper from my emulsion lift kit, I just started pulling all of the baking surface materials from my cabinets and went at it. Item A was my first attempt at drying a lift on foil. As you can see, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping the foil smooth in the process of tearing it from the roll, but nonetheless it worked except that I wasn’t able to peel the lift from the foil once it dried. That particular piece is no longer with us (I destroyed it trying to peel it off) :/ After realizing that the emulsion wasn’t going to be able to release from the foil, I did a second one attempting to keep the foil smooth see Item B. As with the first attempt, I was relieved to discover that my efforts hadn’t gone without some reward. I was excited to see that the foil provided a metallic print feel to the lift. Happy with those results, (although not for the original purpose) I tried a lift on wax paper. I figured if cookies don’t stick to it maybe a lift won’t either. WRONG AGAIN! You can see the results with Item C. I’ll go ahead and cut to the chase and tell you that plastic wrap didn’t work either, and I don’t have an example because the emulsion wouldn’t even stay adhered to the plastic wrap well enough to give it any form.
The creative process being what it is, I quickly turned my attention to discovering how a variety of Impossible materials would lift and make note of the different characteristics. In the past 2 days I lifted 38 Impossible Project & Polaroid instant film emulsions from PX70, PX600, PX680, Push, Polaroid ATZ, PZ600 & PZ680. All of which went onto the art piece I am working on. I regret to say that even since then I have scratched that process and am back at the drawing board for that project. However, I have learned more than I could have imagined about the potential and possible uses of these films for creative purposes and I have made a list of several notes that I made during the trials.
- The hotter the water you can withstand to lift the shot in, the more area it will cover once you place it on the chosen medium.
- You can leave shots in the hot water for an extended period of time (10-15 min.) and the lifts practically remove themselves from the front plastic layer.
- I didn’t even bother transferring the lifts to cool water before placing them on the medium, as they were easier to work with if they were still warm.
- Polaroid ATZ, and Impossible PUSH images behave characteristically identical during the lift process i.e. Regardless of the water temperature that they are lifted in they do not stretch much beyond their original dimensions.
- When lifting any print to foil, if you want the metallic iridescence to come through try to remove as much of the flaky white chemical from the back of the lift as possible.
- Impossible Silver Shade films are very fragile when lifted. As you can see in Item D. Unlike all other film lifts, I have yet to be able to get the bottom border to lift from the plastic and had to force the lift from the bottom border with Silver Shade films. See Item E (including black and gold frame.)
- Using a blow drier to dry the prints quickly was not harmful to the lifts on any material.
- Finally, I have provided 2 examples of double-emulsion lifts using PX600 & PX100 Silver Shade film on watercolor paper and foil so that you can see there isn’t much difference in how the Silver Shade films look on foil v. the standard paper. Item F - watercolor paper & Item G - foil.
Just for the sake of making the observation, Item E is also an example of one difference between Silver Shade, PUSH, Polaroid films & the other Impossible films. You can see a thin cloudy layer that appears between the front plastic layer and the emulsion. This layer is not present on any of the other Impossible films when lifted. Either that or it remains on the lift and I just couldn’t see it (excluding the newest cool films as I did not lift any)
Hopefully, these tips and observation will be of some use as you explore the limitless possibilities that Instant film has to offer. Lastly, let the entire experience here be a reminder that the path to any creative end is not clear and straightforward. That sometime when an original idea doesn't turn out as you expected, that it is alright and often beneficial to explore the tangents that you come across in the creative journey. Therein, you may find yourself creating something that you didn't even know was possible.