If the Polaroid presents an aesthetic and playful interest in its traditional form of use, it is also a formidable support for creative expression from the photographic medium. In this tutorial, we invite you to discover how to make a gelatin peel to make an emulsion transfer on a paper support.
For a very long time, photographers have appropriated the Polaroid for creative purposes. The options were much greater with peel-apart films which had a positive on one side and a negative on the other. If you did not wait for the end of the development to separate the two parts, it was for example possible to carry out a transfer of chemistry from the negative part of the film on a paper support by pressing the two supports one against the other. The transfer of chemistry then let appear the image in positive. The other technique, which corresponds to the one that we are going to describe to you here, consists in ridding the Polaroid of its support and its plasticized protective layer to keep only the layer of emulsion which can then be deposited on a new support. The operation was much simpler on older versions of Polaroids or on Peel-Apart films like the Fuji FP-100c, unfortunately also discontinued. The emulsion was thicker and more resistant. It is nevertheless possible to perform this operation on the latest Polaroid Originals films as we will show you here on Polaroid 600.
You don't need to be a lab pro or have sophisticated space and equipment to complete the following tutorial. Simply bring a pair of scissors, a bowl (or an equivalent container that withstands heat and does not rub off), a kettle or a pot of boiling water, a paintbrush , pliers that can withstand hot water and a thick sheet of drawing paper. Be careful, your cuvette must be larger than your sheet of paper. Of course, you also need a Polaroid on display!
For our tests, we used the latest Polaroid Originals 600 emulsions in color and black and white. We performed tests on films just exposed and developed, and on other films made several days before. It is with the most recent films that we have obtained the best results and it is also with black and white films that the operation has proved to be the most successful. However, we will come back to this point a little later. Finally, remember that the operation is very delicate and that there is a good chance that your first attempts will not meet your expectations. So start by practicing on a photo that you don't really care about.
To begin, cut out your Polaroid using your pair of scissors so as to eliminate the entire cardboard outline and keep only the photo. No need to take the margin, there is no emulsion under the cardboard!
Once this step is completed, you will be able to separate your photo into two parts and eliminate the black back which constitutes the support. In the center, you will see a white powder: this is where the problems with the latest emulsions begin… Previously, this thin white film was relatively easy to remove under water. One could eliminate it under the tap or let it dissolve in the basin. Obviously, the composition of the latest Polaroid Originals emulsions has been modified on this point and the support has become much more fragile.
The white layer no longer dissolves and the washing operation under the tap is extremely delicate. We have repeatedly caused punctures in the gelatin layer by removing it. The problem if you don't remove it is the marks it will leave behind the image once the transfer is complete. Our various tests have then shown that it is better to separate the two parts frankly to make the fewest marks and to clean the white layer very slightly without trying to separate it completely.
On black and white films, the white layer automatically dissolved in water.
After this step, put boiling water in your bowl and immerse your image. Little by little, you will see the emulsion peeling off the protective plastic layer covering it. Get a pair of pliers and a brush. Gently, you will help the gelatin layer to come off. Be careful, it is very fragile! Only touch the emulsion layer with the tip of your brush. The clamp will, for its part, be used to grab the plastic overlay without burning yourself.
The emulsion layer will tend to curl up or roll up on itself. You can extend it later, but using the brush, try to limit this phenomenon, because you will quickly find that it can be recalcitrant and delicate to handle.
Now that you only have your emulsion layer in your tank, dip your sheet of drawing paper and slip it below your image. Using your brush, you will be able to place your photo in the desired location. Apply light brush strokes to properly place the image and smooth out your emulsion. The gelatin layer does not adhere to the paper as long as you are in the water; on the other hand, it will become more and more fragile and end up disintegrating. Don't handle it too long.
Then take your sheet out of the water little by little, keeping the emulsion in place, then continuing to spread it. If an edge doesn't fit properly, you can dip it back in water to work on just that part of the image.
Then place your sheet to dry... and resist the temptation to touch it, because it is still very fragile!
As we explained to you, the new formula of Polaroid Originals films makes the support much more fragile than before. Our multiple tests therefore gave very different results. For example, it was almost impossible for us to totally eliminate the white layer which separates the two parts of the color film, whereas it systematically decomposed in water for the black and white films. When we made the choice to keep this layer completely, the resulting image was thicker, but the process still worked correctly. When marks appeared after separation, they caused differences in density on the final transfer. It is by separating the two parties frankly and quickly that the phenomenon has occurred the least.
When marks appeared on the back of color films, we were unable to remove them without piercing the gelatin.
Finally, when we carried out tests on Polaroids just exposed (you still have to wait a good half hour for the image to stabilize), we observed a strange phenomenon. Sometimes the plastic layer peeled off from the emulsion during separation.
Sometimes the top plastic layer peels off the emulsion as soon as it separates.
We then immersed the image and its black support in our hot water tank, which resulted in a perfect detachment of only the gelatin layer.
Other times, the separation was done in the classic way, but the not yet dry white powder layer automatically came off in hot water. Likewise, we were able to obtain a perfect detachment of the gelatin layer.
This is how we got the best results, but it means operating right after the shot. Finally, remember that the results are always quite random, but they can sometimes restore much more interest to a photo than its original state. If you have tried or developed another technique, do not hesitate to share your experience with us.
Finally, note that despite our multiple attempts, the operation does not seem possible with Fujifilm Instax films.