Dad’s flowers

My father was an avid photography hobbyist. It was through his interest that mine was sparked and his initial instruction has served me all of these years.

His favorite media was slides. I’m convinced it was because Kodachrome offered the rich colors that he wanted to capture and slides were a then-version of file sharing. Analog, naturally. With the projector running and the screen set up in the living room, Dad would share his latest works with whoever would happily listen and look. And they were lovely.

I’m convinced were he alive today he’d be sharing his creations on Flickr. But that’s as far as it went then – as far as it could realistically go. No scanners existed 20 years ago nor was there digital file rendering within reach of the amateur. He simply had slides. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them that he (and we) could enjoy when the spirit moved him to convert our home into a screening room.

When he died, the question became what to do with all of these images. Slides and their partner projectors were becoming less and less the norm. After culling through them, I saved his best work that even today largely continues to exist in boxes in storage. Hundreds of images unappreciated by everyone.

One of his favorite subjects was shooting close-ups of flowers. He’d screw his “close-up” rings onto his 55mm lens (a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera that predated the now-standard bayonet mount), mount the assembly onto a tripod and capture the colors and patterns that only bugs crawling around in the flowers could fully appreciate.

And so these images have sat – until recently. I’ve wanted to do something with them to preserve the images and make them more accessible – make that more visible – to those of us who appreciated his eye.I’ve just completed transferring the
first of these images to Polaroid film for the purpose of making Polaroid emulsion transfers that can then be displayed and enjoyed. Here are the first three in what I hope becomes a nice series of his images. Through the tools available today and mixing media, these images have a new life.

As I share these with you I toast my father for his creativity, his curiosity and his willingness to cultivate those characteristics in others. Thanks, Dad.

Between two worlds

I moved to shooting digitally a few years ago. That said, I still shoot “analog” or film for a couple of the processes that get me that certain image with that certain feel to it, including Polaroid emulsion transfers. To refresh your memory, emulsion transfers begin their lives as slides which I then copy to Polaroid film which is then transferred to watercolor paper, etc.

Recently Polaroid announced that it would cease production of its film at the end of 2008. (Not to digress too far, but I have to note I find it fascinating that Polaroid, who owned the category of instant photography, completely missed the transition to instant digital photography…) Not surprisingly, but disappointingly, their film is going away. Then just the other day I popped into the photo store where I’ve been buying slide mounts for several years to pick up some more, only to be informed that they no longer carry them due to lack of demand.

I am, as Andy Garcia said to George Clooney in one of the “Ocean’s” films, “an analog player in a digital world.”

It’s not that I don’t enjoy digital photography but rather it’s that some processes, and specifically the emulsion transfer process, involve a significant amount of handwork to render an image “just so”. While a digital photo can be “Photoshopped” to look like an emulsion transfer, it’s just not the same. First, copying the slide to Polaroid is absolute, as in there’s no possibility to crop an image, so all composition has to happen in the camera when the slide is shot. Nice creative constraints to have to work under.

Second, the transfer from slide to Polaroid alters the colors in unpredictable ways – sometimes enhancing them; other times washing them out – due to the nature of Polaroid film. Always interesting to see how the images come out. Finally, transferring the emulsion to watercolor paper is a delicate operation. If I’m too aggressive the gelatin will tear, destroying the image and requiring me to start all over again. As a result, while I may make multiple copies of a given image, they are all different from each other due to the fact they are all individually hand made and how the images lay out on the watercolor paper is necessarily different as they always wrinkle just a little bit differently.

We’ll see what happens. I’ve found slide mounts and can still buy slide film – for how much longer I don’t know. I’ve laid in a supply of Polaroid film that will get me through my most recent work and allow me to make a few very limited editions of some photos (3 max), but after that? I’m hoping someone will pick up the rights to produce the film, but if not, it’ll be time to set this equipment on the shelf next to my collection of other old photo equipment and find a new process to explore and play with.

Sad on the one hand, but exciting on the other.

The allure of various media, Part II

Another technique I use is the Polaroid emulsion transfer. These images begin life as slides. I then copy them to Polaroid film using the handy Day Lab. The Polaroid images are then scalded in hot water which causes the emulsion to separate from the paper backing. Finally, the emulsion is transferred to watercolor paper resulting in the odd-looking textured images you see on my site. Going from slide to Polaroid alters the colors a bit and the water bath process has its effects on the image as well. Still, the final image is intriguing and – to me anyway – needed to be seen in this format.


Here again, as with the Diana, the composition has to happen in the camera as there is no cropping – the Day Lab copies the slide to the film as is. Adding to the challenge is restriction that the image is only as large as the Polaroid paper – about 3 ½ by 4 ½ inches or 9 x 11.5 cm. Not all images work in this format.


I love to work with this medium although Polaroid has announced that they are no longer going to produce the paper so these images may become a part of history sooner than I anticipated.

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