A thin blue film

Photographer exhibits emulsion transfers

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

Noelle Derse is putting pictures of her pictures on rocks and glass. The images, called emulsion transfers, blend photography with creative printing and display techniques. Derse will exhibit 40 or 50 of her emulsion transfers this month at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery. Her show will be launched with an opening reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at the gallery at 206 North Franklin St.

Derse described an emulsion transfer as a very thin, transparent layer of film and color.

"It's a picture that's had the paper removed, so the emulsion can be transferred to any surface," she said. "If you put it on glass, light shines through it."

The emulsion itself is 3 by 4 inches and in some cases as large as 8 by 10 inches. The larger ones are much more difficult to work with, she said.

"The large ones are harder to handle and you have to be quick with them or they dissolve," she said.

Derse starts with a slide, usually a landscape she has photographed herself. She'll sort through a variety of images and choose those that lend themselves best to the emulsion transfer technique.

"(The process) really suits the scenery of Southeast Alaska," she said. "They tend toward a blue tone and they're kind of watery."

She rephotographs the slide with a machine that uses self-developing, pull-apart Polaroid film. After the film is completely processed and dried, the print is laid in a water bath. The emulsion is freed in water and carefully transferred to another surface. She said the process takes place over two days and only about half the results are worth keeping.

"It's very delicate," she said. "It's very hard to set it onto a surface before it starts to dissolve. Some people really enjoy the tearing and dissolving as part of the effect."

That's exactly what she likes about the process.

"I'm mostly interested in the effect that happens more the art side of it than the photography the fluidity and the transparency," she said. "You can't print a regular picture on a rock or glass, or glass bricks, or art papers. There's some spontaneity to it; no two pictures will ever look the same."

She said she was captivated by the technique when she first discovered it in the early 1990s, but she couldn't find anyone to teach her. She taught herself the process and works in a studio at home.

She manipulates the image by gently twisting the emulsion with a QTip, by working it with her fingers or by fraying the edges with a paintbrush. Some are mounted on glass sheets and placed in deep frames that showcase the translucent quality of the image.

The show will also feature image transfers, a related technique that uses the same type of Polaroid film. The film is torn apart while still developing and the dyes from the wet, partially developed negative are pressed into a sheet of specially prepared art paper.

Derse graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1987 and attended colleges in Boston and Seattle. She returned to Southeast Alaska a few years ago to make Juneau her home. She works for the Alaska Legislature as an editor.

Some of the images in the show are from well-preserved slides that have been in her family for 50 years scenes of wildlife and Interior Alaska landscapes that were shot in the 1940s and '50s.

Derse has displayed her work in Portfolio Arts and Gallery of the North. The exhibit at the arts council gallery will be on display through the end of September.


Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.

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