Christopher J Osborne

Emulsion lifts

RPS Distinctions

I am very pleased to say that some of my Polaroid emulsion lift work has been recognised by the Royal Photographic Society (RPS). In September 2019 I received an RPS Associateship and in November 2020 I received an RPS Fellowship.

More emulsion lift galleries


Polaroid emulsion lifting is a technique for making unique prints using Polaroid film, a device to make Polaroid prints (this could be a Polaroid camera, but more often I use a device such as a Polaroid Lab Instant Printer to make the prints) and warm water. Each print is completely unique. You can see how the process works in more detail in How to make Polaroid emulsion lift triptych prints over in the Polaroid articles section.

Emulsion lifting a long been a key part of my photography, but I can't claim to have invented the technique! In fact it began life back in the 1960s with Polaroid pack film (see the Pack film emulsion lifts gallery) presumably when someone accidentally dropped a pack film print in some hot water and they noticed the emulsion layer starting to lift off the base layer.

When SX-70 (the first so-called 'integral' film print formed a single sealed unit with no need to peel apart the print and negative materials) was launched in the 1970s people began to wonder if the same sort of technique could be applied. So they cut open the sealed integral print to see what was inside. They found that the layer of plastic to which the emulsion layer was attached could indeed be put into hot water for very much the same effect! So the integral print emulsion lift was born!

So as you can see emulsion lift printing is a long established technique. But, particularly since Impossible Project re-invented integral Polaroid film, it has been in a continual state of evolution and it changes it's behaviour on a regular basis. Not long after I finished my RPS Fellowship portfolio in 2020 Polaroid changed the chemistry of the film so that the layer of white Zinc Oxide chemical (that normally sits behind the emulsion layer to provide a bright white background) began to stick to the emulsion layer in a way that spoiled the look of the print and also stopped the emulsion layer sticking properly to the receiving material. For this reason I didn't make any emulsion lifts (at least no successful emulsion lifts!) for a couple of years.

But in October 2022 I bought a 5 pack of Polaroid i-Type color film to continue working on my Stone flowers series of images and I decided to have another go at making emulsion lifts with the last few sheets. And the problem with the Zinc Oxide layer seems to have sorted itself out. So I'm very happy to report that emulsion lift printing is very much back on the agenda… yay!