Louis Little is a London-based photographer who is currently working as an assistant for the British photographer Martin Parr. In 2014 he purchased his first Polaroid Camera and started to experiment with instant photography. And so had begun to collect a series of dud images that hadn’t turned out quite how he’d hoped. It was these failures that he began to experiment further with, and received a variety of hypnotic results in the process.
“My eBay history tells me that I purchased my first Polaroid camera In January 2014. A Polaroid 600 Land Camera Autofocus 660 for £17.05. An absolute bargain! I loved the 80’s design and instantly fell in love with it. Shortly after that I purchased my first batch of film from the Impossible Project. Two packs of Colour Film for 600 Polaroid cameras. A natural choice for me as I shoot predominantly colour on my Nikon FE 35mm camera.
At first I treated Impossible Project film as I would any other film. There wasn’t any change in the subject matter that I photographed or the way that I photographed. I live a busy lifestyle so photography for me is usually something that happens whilst on the move. As I cycle to work, on the bus to meet friends, travelling abroad with family. I soon learnt however that this medium had its boundaries, which led to complications and discoveries.
One evening as I was cycling home from work I stopped to photograph a discarded-and-mangled umbrella on the street. After taking the shot I popped the photograph into my back pocket and continued my journey home. By the time I got home I realised that the film was too cold! The image was a blue-black mess. Regardless I kept it as a token of what had gone wrong. Another time on a night out with a friend I took his portrait in front of a bright orange shutter only to find the next morning that it was completely under-exposed. Again I kept the results in order to learn from the experience.
I was going through what most instant photographers experience at some stage or another. The un-predictability of analog photography
Of course there were times when the results worked well. One time that sticks in my mind was whilst I was on a portrait shoot with the musician Sarah Leo. I was photographing on the Canon 5d Mk II with a 25-105mm lens but the space was too wide. I needed something more direct and had brought my Polaroid camera with me so I took a couple of shots and stored them in my back pocket until the shoot was finished. When I looked at the results later on I instantly fell in love with the orange-purple tones. So much so that I thought they were the best photographs from the whole shoot!
Over the course of a few months I had started to accumulate a mixed selection of results. I thought some of them were great. Everything you wanted from an instant photograph. Mixed colours. That slightly soft focus. Of course, many of them entered the dud pile. Overexposed. Blue blobs of some-thing-or-other. I wanted to create something out of nothing. I took four and put them in the toaster. ‘Pop-tart Polaroids’ I called them. They were a little bit of fun. The heat from the toaster distorted the primary layer of the film. Sometimes it burnt right through, creating a variety of textures. It often bubbled which distorted the under-image. I started a number of small kitchen fires. My flat mates must’ve thought I had lost the plot. Eventually I got bored of that idea. I then tried the complete opposite and submerged some more rejects in water. I started with just one of two.
I bought a large bucket from a £1 shop and collected a few bricks from a construction site. I placed the photographs at the bottom of the bucket under the bricks and poured cold water over them then left it in my bathroom to stew for a few days. When I first checked the results they were so-so. Nothing special. The under-image had begun to go soft. It was blurry, like a fading memory. I re-submerged them in the water and left them for a few weeks. When I checked them the second time the image had nearly completely faded. The various layers of film emulsion had started to crack and separate. I also noticed that the water stunk!
My flat mates were certain I had gone mad. I re-submerged them in the water and left them for a few months. When I came back the third time the results were remarkable. The image had completely gone. The emulsion had completely cracked. It was almost as though the various layers of emulsion were floating within the frame window itself. The colours were beautifully exaggerated. There were bright blue, deep reds, muted greys and dark blacks. The frames of the photos were still intact which rounded the results off perfectly.
Since my first successes I’ve created a few more. The most difficult thing is finding the right environment to setup in. Then I find I have to accumulate a lot of ‘bad’ photos in order to re-start the process. The final stage is having the patience to wait for the end result. It’s a fascinating working experience. I almost hope for failures because if they’re too good you just want to hold onto them!”