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‘Impossible’ Tutorial – Emulsion Lifts

We’re delighted to be working closer with The Impossible Project team as we continue to branch out and expand our reach with all things related to mobile photography. Analog post-processing of mobile images is becoming more and more popular and we’re going to make sure our readers are fully briefed on this very exciting development.

The Impossible Project is in many ways leading the way, but there is also a growing community of mobile artists and photographers experimenting with other analog post processing techniques in an attempt to make their mobile images stand out even more, in galleries, magazines and the like and we have viewed some outstanding images and techniques.

A good deal of my formal photographic training (many years ago) was spent in a huge college darkroom and it is an area that I’ve always enjoyed, I think you will too. I also had a very close working relationship with Polaroid built up through my years as Technical Editor for various UK photography print magazines/titles.

Today we are publishing a wonderfully creative tutuorial demonstrating how to realize emulsion lifts, a classic technique in which film is peeled apart and the clear front panel is dipped in warm water to free the emulsion layer from the plastic. These free-floating emulsions can then be placed on various papers or other materials.

Republished with kind permission of the Impossible team.

What you need

1 instant photo

1 or many soft brushes

1 pair of scissors

1 carrier surface (paper, wood, plastic, glass…)

1 bowl filled with hot water

How to do it

Step 1. Using scissors, cut the frame off your image. You will need to cut the very edges of your picture to remove the whole frame.

Step 2. Only keep the square photo

Step 3.

Plunge the image into the bowl of hot water and let it soak for

aprox. 1 minute.

Step 4. Start in one corner of the image and peel the positive from the negative part. The two parts should peel easily. If they don’t, plunge the image into the water for 30 seconds and try again.

Step 5. Remove the white negative part and keep the transparent positive part.

Step 6. To clean the remaining chemistry on the positive part, softly clean it in the water using a brush.

Step 7. Plunge the image into the water again for 1 or 2 minutes. Using a soft brush, remove the emulsion from the transparent foil.

Step 8. Remove the plastic sheet and keep the emulsion in water.

The emulsion is now free from the plastic. You can touch it and hold the image in your hand !

Notice that one side of the image is milky. Turn the image around so you don’t see this milky side.

Using a brush, bring your photo back to life in water.

Pick a carrier surface. It can be wood, plastic, glass, paper or even a mirror!

Carefully slide the carrier surface under the emulsion.

Using a brush or your fingers, position the emulsion on the carrier surface.

Remove the image from water. You can still work on the emulsion as long as it is in the water, so you can hold one side of the image, plunge the other side in water and start again until you are satisfied with the result.

If the carrier surface and the emulsion are still wet, you can work on the emulsion, create or remove wrinkles and new shapes with a brush or your fingers

Let the emulsion lift dry for approximately 24 hours. The emulsion is now stuck on the surface!

You can also do emulsion lifts on glass.

The carrier surface can also be wood, plastic, glass, paper or even a mirror

Joanne Carter, creator of the world’s most popular mobile photography and art website— TheAppWhisperer.com— TheAppWhisperer platform has been a pivotal cyberspace for mobile artists of all abilities to learn about, to explore, to celebrate and to share mobile artworks. Joanne’s compassion, inclusivity, and humility are hallmarks in all that she does, and is particularly evident in the platform she has built. In her words, “We all have the potential to remove ourselves from the centre of any circle and to expand a sphere of compassion outward; to include everyone interested in mobile art, ensuring every artist is within reach”, she has said. Promotion of mobile artists and the art form as a primary medium in today’s art world, has become her life’s focus. She has presented lectures bolstering mobile artists and their art from as far away as the Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea to closer to her home in the UK at Focus on Imaging. Her experience as a jurist for mobile art competitions includes: Portugal, Canada, US, S Korea, UK and Italy. And her travels pioneering the breadth of mobile art includes key events in: Frankfurt, Naples, Amalfi Coast, Paris, Brazil, London. Pioneering the world’s first mobile art online gallery - TheAppWhispererPrintSales.com has extended her reach even further, shipping from London, UK to clients in the US, Europe and The Far East to a global group of collectors looking for exclusive art to hang in their homes and offices. The online gallery specialises in prints for discerning collectors of unique, previously unseen signed limited edition art. Her journey towards becoming The App Whisperer, includes (but is not limited to) working for a paparazzi photo agency for several years and as a deputy editor for a photo print magazine. Her own freelance photographic journalistic work is also widely acclaimed. She has been published extensively both within the UK and the US in national and international titles. These include The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Popular Photography & Imaging, dpreview, NikonPro, Which? and more recently with the BBC as a Contributor, Columnist at Vogue Italia and Contributing Editor at LensCulture. Her professional photography has also been widely exhibited throughout Europe, including Italy, Portugal and the UK. She is currently writing several books, all related to mobile art and is always open to requests for new commissions for either writing or photography projects or a combination of both. Please contact her at: [email protected]


  • diana jeon

    I would love to have one of these. I did some work in grad school printing my own digital negatives using Dan Burkholder’s methods and then, working with another person, we profiled the printer with the OHP transparency films for our negatives. Grad students had access to a setup for transfer of the images to the polaroid and then we would do our transfers. It was great fun! I love the hands one as well as the digital aspects of art. I hope that one day I will be able to afford one of these set ups. Thanks for the new walk down some old memories.

  • Rene Hales

    What Impossible film is used to take the picture? Is it available? Are there film options?

  • Susan Detroy

    Similar to polaroid lifts I did in the 90’s Transferring photo ink and emulsions from one surface to another is a long time passion.