Polaroid Dye Transfer Process

I work “live.” The subject of the photograph sits before the camera’s lens. There are no prior transparencies or negatives involved in making the image. Therefore, each work is truly unique—one click of the shutter yields one photograph. When I make more than one photograph of a particular subject, there are many variables during and after the exposure of the film that add to the uniqueness of each monoprint. Variations are inherent in every step of this process from lighting, exposure, color shifts, and emulsion lifts to the alterations resulting from hand working each final image.

The Polaroid image transfer process is a beautiful, finicky, and rare process that I love for those very qualities. I began making Polaroid transfers twenty-five years ago, using large format view cameras. I was first introduced to the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera in 1997. Even though the camera measures five feet in height and weighs 235 pounds, it operates like any other Polaroid camera. The 20 x 24 film is exposed, and I promptly pull it apart. Then, I quickly place the large negative face down onto a full sheet of water-soaked watercolor paper so it absorbs and retains the dyes. I allow the negative to sit on the paper for several minutes before slowly and carefully peeling it away. Rewetting the paper renders the dyes more malleable. I work into the image by hand to remove and mute some portions of the image, thus enhancing the subject. Sometimes, I apply watercolors to the finished dry print to enhance the image. In the tradition of botanical illustrations, I identify the print’s subject in calligraphic hand with its Latin name.

The film to make these photographs is no longer produced, so these prints have become a rarity, among the last remaining of their kind.