Over the years I’ve tried many unusual artistic techniques for creative projects.
I’ve melted crayons and dripped the coloured hot wax onto canvas boards to create collage backgrounds. I’ve bent wire into the shapes of words to attach to greeting cards. I’ve spent weeks cutting out movie ads from the daily newspapers to accumulate enough to completely cover an entire bathroom wall. (One of my few regrets is that I never took photographs of that bathroom. It was stunning.)
Perhaps the oddest technique I know, however, is bleaching photographs. Yes, bleach.
Simple household bleach and water yields amazing artistic results when applied to photos. Vibrant orange, red and yellow colours randomly appear on photographs when they’re dipped into a bleach solution. It’s quite dramatic.
You can’t just use any photograph, though. Photos printed on your home inkjet printer won’t work. For this project, you need to get photos developed at a print centre or photo lab, as the reaction that creates the effects occurs when the bleach interacts with the chemicals used by the lab.
Subject matter is important. You may not want to use photographs of people; an effect that looks spectacular with architectural or floral photos could look downright creepy on Grandma’s face. It’s your call.
To get started, you’ll need a selection of photographs and three shallow bowls. Tepid water goes into two bowls and one cup each of tepid water and bleach goes into the other bowl. (Make sure to stir the bleach and water together.) You’ll also need a towel.
The process is fast and simple. Take a photograph, dip it completely into the plain water, then immerse it into the bleach solution for a minimum of five seconds, but no more than 10 seconds. If the photo remains in the bleach solution too long you run the risk of having the bleach eat away too much of the image.
Remove the photo from the bleach and quickly dip it into the second bowl of clear water and swish it around for a couple of seconds, then set it aside on the towel to dry.
I wear latex gloves to do this. Even though the bleach solution is weak, it can be irritating to sensitive skin.
Continue the process until you run out of photographs to treat. It’s fascinating to watch the fiery colours appear on your photos. No two will be the same.
This project works well for a group get-together with your creative friends. You’ll just need enough table space for extra bowls and towels.
Even though I have suggested you refrain from bleaching photos of people, this could be a fun activity at a bridal shower using photos of the bride and groom. I predict hilarious results.