By • Oct 17th, 2011 • Category: Fun with film

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Unmasking Negativity : The Truth Beneath’ is part of the ‘Impossible Lessons’ exhibition where a handful of people get to showcase and share special ‘tricks’ and experiments done using the Impossible Project films and Spectra cameras.

I was pretty lost in the beginning … not knowing what to do and neither had I any experiment in mind. Doing stuffs like double exposures seemed a little too common … so I decided to take a risk (and waste lots of film) and try something different.

Perhaps it was just luck that after seeing some tips on obtaining the negative back from the Impossible Project films … I was tried it out … and in a corner in the toilet was a bottle of bleach. Yeah … the smelly and strong liquid! Something told me it might be cool to ‘bathe’ the negative in the bleach and I took a capful of the bleach and bathed the negative back with it … and … miracle happened!

I remember going ‘Whoooa!!! Whoaaa!! Oh my!!!’ when I saw the brown substance on the negative back turning blue and then after running it through water and rubbing it gently … the negative turned out really cool with some lighter shade, more contrasty and … ermm … way cool!

I wanted to do a video on how it is done and since I was just taking (big) risks during the initial experiments … I had to shoot a new photo and then redo the entire process again … this time … with the video camera on.

This one (above) is a result of accidentally spilling a capful of bleach on the negative. I was a little slow in retrieving it and rub off the blue substance under a running tap … so it looks like some weird … ermm …. whatever. I like it though. 😛

It ain’t easy shooting video and doing the stuffs at the same time (a tripod doesn’t help much) but I think … ermm … it should be okay. If you have played with emulsion transfer before, you might realize that there is a small part of the process missing in the video. Hahaha! Yeah … the part where you wash off the powdery/sticky/whatever thing off the top of the negative backing. I forgot to switch the video recording on! Anyway … it makes not much difference since you have to rinse it off in the end anyway.

This one above is my favorite. At least this is one shot that I did put some planning into … knowing a white background will turn dark and the black tires will be white (or light in color) on the negative.

Disclaimer : I do not know what actually happens to the brownish substance on the negative when it comes in contact with bleach. Please do not ask me if you will turn into a Smurf when your hands get in contact with the blue substance or if you end up dissolving your hands in the process. I foolishly took a risk doing these without a pair of gloves but I think putting on a pair of them will be a safer bet. 😀

Let’s get to the video …

Yup! The secret to it … bleach! I have not tried any other bleach apart from this one (shown in video) but I guess they should all work the same. No … you don’t have to choose a pink floral scent one. I was just vain when I went to the supermarket to pick up a new bottle just now. I finished the last few drops we had last weekend during the initial experiment. 😛 I actually ended up wasting two (!!!) bottles of bleach in the whole process (of course including those many screwed up ones).

Here are some additional tips should you wanna try bleaching your negatives :

1. I realize that it is best to bleach them about an hour or two after taking the photos. Some photos that were few days old seemed a little harder to bleach and I had to repeat the bleaching process a couple of times before it looks better.

2. When repeating the bleaching process (if the first bleaching doesn’t give you satisfactory result) … make very sure not to overdo it. You might just wipe out EVERYTHING on the photo. I discovered a trick … which is to add water (about 50:50 ratio) when you are doing the second (or third) round of bleaching. Results varies … depending on the exposure of the photo and how fast/slow you are when washing/rubbing off the blue-ish stuff after pouring the bleach on it (the negative).

3. Do not rub too hard (under running tap). You might rub off some of the images!

4. Do not scratch the negative while rubbing it (under running tap). It leaves lots of ugly scratches (but might be cool if done properly).

5. Try to put the negative under a running tap … a couple of seconds after pouring the bleach on it.

6. You don’t have to rub off all the blue substance. Leave some around the sides for that extra … ermm … effect. 😛

7. Scan the photos once they are dry. Not sure if it was my old eyes playing tricks on me … I realised the photo (bleached version) seem to turn a little dull & darker after a few days. Make very sure the photo is dry before scanning … or some leftover bleach might send the glass surface on your scanner to heaven. 😀

One very fun thing about this bleaching technique is that you will never get 2 photos to appear with the same effect. The results depend a lot on how long you leave the bleach on the negative, how long you take to rub off the blue stuff (under a running tap) and also how fast (and even) you rub it off too. As you can see from my photos, there are parts that are yellowish … and those are the parts I was a little slow in rubbing off the blue stuff. Pretty cool to have some of them yellow around, ain’t it? 😀

Here’s the emulsion transferred onto canvas …

Honestly … I hate doing these emulsion transfers. I hate working with such fragile things (the jellyfish film) as I usually end up tearing them or causing them to be all rolled up! 🙁 Blame my fat old fingers!

Check out more ‘Unmasking Negativity’ photos at the Impossible Lessons exhibition held at ThirtySix til the end of this week. 😀


  1. Hu Andrew ! I do love the results, they’re stunning ! love them ! I would love to have an access code to watch the video… 🙂

  2. @fab : You were one of the lucky ones who caught this post when I accidetally published it some weeks back. Hahaha! The video is now published without a password. 😉 Some of the photos you saw are no longer in this post. I’ll post them up after the exhibition. 🙂

  3. AWESOMENESS can i reblog this!? of cause all credit goes to you!

  4. @mijonju : Thanks. Of course you can 😀

  5. Haha! i dun mind turning into smurf! 😛 i like your artistic experiments!!!

  6. @Lawry : You will be ‘Handsome Smurf’ then! 😀 Thanks. Luckily they allowed me to do without the props like you did. Phew!

  7. Hi there, amazing work! The negative bleaching looks like the same way you would bleach a FP100 negative? I am wondering if it helps better if you stick the emulsion side down on a flat glass surface and apply bleach ontop of the black backing. I suppose they work around the same principle?

  8. MY IDOL!!!!! your work is DOPE!!!!!

  9. @Patrick : Thanks. I’m not sure about FP100. I’ve not tried doing it. The black backing will sort of peel and go all crazy and some black liquid will make a mess for the Impossible Project film I tried. Maybe you can go try and let me know? 😛 I’m now having a bleach phobia after sniffin too much of them. 😀

    @noreen : Yeah rite! Made me grin for your camera like 3 or 4 times just now!!! I am gonna kill Jim!!!

  10. […] Don’t forget to check out how these photos were ‘made’ in this little tutorial here. […]

  11. Fantastic video. I just may try this myself!! 🙂

  12. @Shari : Thanks 🙂

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