I Dreamed of Flying Fish Last Night, or: How to Do Experimental Polaroids

Credits: laurasulilly

I have been exploring the manifold possibilities of creative Polaroid techniques lately and every time I upload my results, there are questions on how I actually do this.
I’ve been planning to do a step-by-step-tipster for quite a while now, but I somehow seem to forget about it every time I work on my Polaroids. So I thought I might just as well start by publishing a general blog on it – using my latest Polaroids as an example – because I kind of doubt that I will ever publish the said tipster….

So, first of all, there has to be a general idea or inspiration for a concept. My Flying Fish Polaroids were actually very roughly inspired by an expressionist piece of music I have been thinking about ever since I was 13 and listened to it back at school. It’s Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire number 8, Nacht (Night):

Giant black butterflies
Have blotted out the sunshine.
A closed book of magic spells,
The horizon sleeps-silent.

Vapors from lost abysses
Breathe out an odor, murdering memory.
Giant black butterflies
Have blotted out the sunshine.

And from Heaven earthward
Gliding down on leaden wings
The invisible monsters
Descend upon our human hearts…
Giant black butterflies.

Finstre, schwarze Riesenfalter
Töteten der Sonne Glanz.
Ein geschlossnes Zauberbuch,
Ruht der Horizont – verschwiegen.

Aus dem Qualm verlorner Tiefen
Steigt ein Duft, Erinnrung mordend!
Finstre, schwarze Reisenfalter
Töteten der Sonne Glanz.

Und vom Himmel erdenwärts
Senken sich mit schweren Schwingen
Unsichtbar die Ungetüme
Auf die Menschenherzen nieder…
Finstre, schwarze Riesenfalter.

(Source: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=19416)

The music and text are intensely expressive and disturbing. Although I’m still very impressed by this piece, I myself can’t produce such expressive pieces of art. My style is more playful and dreamy, so I thought about how to make this whole thing my own. I ventured away from the oiginal idea quite a bit by turning the giant black butterflies into flying fish with butterfly wings and that’s where it all started…

So much for the intellectual level so to speak. Let’s turn to the practical approach now.

I got myself some plastic fish and some plastic butterfly wings and made flying fish from them. In order to do this, I cut off the plastic butterfly wings and slit the sides of the plastic fish in order to put the wings into them. Then I hung them up on very thin plastic yarn and took a shot. Since I wanted to use a doubling technique, this was going to be the first layer:

I took another shot of a fitting background I chose accordingly. I decided I wanted it to be some kind of plant to make it look as if the fish was flying around a flower/plant. I chose lavendar because the dry streaky branches fit the decay I still had in mind when thinking of the original piece of music:

Then I put the two layers together, using the emulsion liftt technique with each single shot and combining them on watercolour paper. Here’s how to do the emulsion lifts as explained in the video blog from The Impossible Project:

And there it was, my I Dreamed of Flying Fish Last Night Polaroid emulsion lift. It worked out so well that this shot ended up being my third featured Polaroid on The Impossible Project’s Facebook page (next to the other 2 shots you can find in the gallery underneath- those were actually done using a different but similar technique and if there happen to be people interested in these techniques as well, I shall write a tipster soon…hopefully).

Credits: laurasulilly

There’s really not much left of Schönberg’s original music in it at all, but hey, this is my project and I’m not this guy after all. I have my own style and it’s always better to make up something for yourself than to merely copy others. Nevertheless, inspiration is the key and you can find it everywhere around you. All you have to do is look and see for yourselves…

written by laurasulilly on 2012-10-05


  1. kdstevens
    kdstevens ·

    Very cool! And congratulations on IP using your photos, too!

  2. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    @kdstevens: Thank you! You probably won't remember but you helped me quite a lot when I started my Polaroid journey. So thanks so much again, I kind of owe you the IP features too :)

  3. bloomchen
    bloomchen ·

    wow! finally i know how it works. thanks for sharing. really great and watching the video makes me thinking: i want to do this! ;)

  4. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    @bloomchen: yes, do it! and get back to me if you ever happen to have questions :)

  5. lawypop
    lawypop ·

    luv emulsion lifts! thanks for sharing your creative process :)

  6. merelgroebbe
    merelgroebbe ·

    Nice!! Would this also work with fujifilm instax film?? So curious to try this!!!

  7. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    @merelgroebbe: I can't really tell because I only use film from The Impossible Project and original Polaroid and both work...here it says it works, but it seems to be more complicated:


    Maybe you should try to google a bit for yourself 'cause I don't know which Fuji film you're using (and I also don't know the differences between the different Fuji instant films).

    Hope thsi helps somehow :)

  8. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    @merelgroebbe: Oh, I think the links I just gave you are for Fuji peel-apart fim and not for instax.

    Here's one for Instax:

    That's all I found for instax but it actually isn't quite the same, it's transfering still wet ink jet prints of scanned instax pics onto paper...so my guess is that it does't work, I'm sorry! :(

  9. rik041
    rik041 ·

    thank you....schoenberg helps you rik

  10. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    @lawypop: Thank you! And so do I :)
    @rik041: Ich finde Schönberg wirklich großartig!

  11. merelgroebbe
    merelgroebbe ·

    I tried first and then googled and doesnt work.. wel i guess i wil try to shoot with some other polaroid film then, i really want to try this out!!! keep up the great work!