Early this month, we introduced you to the dreamy emulsion lift ‘doubles’ by Berlin-based photographer and fellow community member Laura Su Lilie (Laura Su Bischoff). If you were impressed and intrigued with her technique and the surreal imagery she makes out of it, we’re taking you further into her dreamworld through this fascinating interview. Go ahead and read on!
1. Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
My name is Laura, I live in Berlin, Germany, and I do Polaroid emulsion lifts, my favourite and “speciality” being double emulsion lifts.
Moreover, I work as a freelance translator, mostly for literature. Actually, I just finished translating texts for two books which are to be about photo-related topics: One with writings by the “old master” Alvin Langdon Coburn and one with texts by Sherlock-Holmes-author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was interested in photography himself and wrote a couple of essays for the British Journal for Photography and books on spirit and fairy photography. Both will be published in 2014.
2. How long have you been shooting film and doing emulsion lifts?
I started doing film photography in 2010. At first, I was into plastic camera-photography and actually used to be active in this community. After Christmas 2011, I started doing Polaroids and also sharing the results here, and I remember how much support and encouragement I received (on a side note, I also remember how I missed New Year’s Eve countdown that year because I was working on my very first emulsion lift and was so eager to finish it all the while my boyfriend and my best friend were waiting for me outside!).
3. Do you still remember the first emulsion lift double piece you did? If so, can you share it with us and tell us something about it?
Yes, I do. I called it “I Dreamed of Flying Fish Last Night.” It was very roughly inspired by an expressionist piece of music I had been thinking about ever since I was 13 and listened to it back at school: Arnold Schönbergs Pierrot Lunaire number 8, Nacht (Night). The music and text are highly intense and disturbing. Although I’m still very impressed by this piece, I myself can’t produce such an expressive piece of art. So I thought about how to make this whole thing my own. I ventured away from the original idea quite a bit by turning the giant black butterflies into flying fish with butterfly wings and that’s where it all started…
4. You have described your style as “dreamy,” “surreal,” and “earthy” and we truly agree. Were these the characteristics you were after when you tried out doing emulsion lift doubles?
Not really, it just sort of fell into place while I was doing it. At first, I was mostly attracted by the lifts’ aesthetics, but then I began thinking about how I might use it to express myself in certain ways. The doubles naturally seemed to be the next step, because I had done multiple exposures with my Holga, Diana F+, and Lubitel before. Also, doubles provide endless opportunities for creating something new and “unreal:" It’s not about documenting what is already in existence but about creating a whole different universe. I am not talking of randomly snapping and shooting for surprise effects only (even though coincidence is a factor nevertheless). I am talking about carefully planned doubles in which each and every subject and layer are picked for a certain desired effect.
5. Where do you find inspiration for the emulsion lift doubles that you make?
Seldom in music (as was the case in my picture “I Dreamed of Flying Fish Last Night”), often in literature, and mostly, in the world around me and in my own imagination. When I was little, I used to be able to drift away into a world of my own for hours; I just felt different, and I’m quite an introvert, as well – I just liked my own universe better. Today, even though I guess I’m the typical intellectual type and do enjoy talking about issues like Henry David Thoreau’s concept of resistance or the different waves of feminism, I still try to keep that child and her curiosity within me.
6. What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of this technique? What about the most rewarding?
Actually, I don’t consider it to be either challenging or rewarding. The technique is both challenging and rewarding at the same time, which is why I find it so satisfying. I like to challenge myself to create pictures which express my view of the world, or rather, let others have a glimpse into my inner world. The films I use do add a certain magic and imperfection. However, I find it challenging to make sure the analogue effect doesn’t take over completely so to speak. It sure forms an important part and I aim at using it to my own advantage, but I still like to ask myself each and every time: would this also work without the film’s characteristic colors, etc., or is it just about “cheap thrills,” really? It is easy to go for effects in order to make up for a lack of vision. It is a constant struggle which makes me question and analyse myself and my work all the time. I do seem to succeed a little bit with this approach, given all the feedback I get from many places and many people. I’m still in some sort of shock, but in a good way really.
7. Is there anything you wish to achieve, try out, or experiment with using this technique?
Well, sometimes I find my pictures a little too romantic, too corny, and too playful, so I want to find a way to make them a little darker and more twisted at times. Also, I have doubled color and b&w films in emulsion lifts before and I am hoping to be able to explore this a little further in the future.
Moreover, I am interested in historic processes (today dubbed “alternative”). I bought a large format camera from the money I got for translating Conan Doyle and I’ve done a few large format Polaroids and tintypes already. I’m still rather bad at them, though.
8. Do you have a favorite out of all the emulsion lift doubles that you’ve made so far? Can you tell us something about it?
I think I have two at the moment. Both are self-portraits (I often do self-portraits) and I both like them for the same reason: they are not “classic” in the sense that you could see my face. They are more about a certain mood, in both cases very much related to the season during which I took them (one is called “Autumn” and the other “Summer Fields Self-Portrait”). I change my mind ever so often, though.
9. Lomographers and film photographers often swap film rolls to make doubles with others — have you ever thought about making emulsion lift doubles this way?
No, I haven’t, but it seems to be a lovely idea. I myself like to have 100% control over my work, but maybe there might be others who would like to try it and share their results?
10. Finally, can you give us some tips for those who would like to try doing emulsion lifts and emulsion lift doubles?
I think the whole process does require a certain patience. And practice, of course. Beyond that, there is not much I could suggest, since we all are so different from one another. Find your own style by celebrating that difference – because only dead fish swim with the stream. This being said, do whatever comes to your mind and see if it works out for you. Once mastered, the technique can yield results of delicate and rather “rugged” beauty. Inspiration is all around, you just have to listen to its call.
Thank you so much, Laura, for taking the time to answer our questions and share some of your more recent works!