Nuking Polaroids in the Microwave. An Interview with Oliver Blohm
By Maddie - 5 min read
Photographer Oliver Blohm shares his craft with us and gives us an exclusive look into his photographic process – using microwaves to create fascinating and unique portraits
Oliver Blohm is a Berlin-based photographer, focusing mainly on portraits and experimental photography. From a small village close to the Baltic Sea, he discovered photography in his late teens, which soon became more than a hobby. He is currently finishing his diploma and gives workshops in experimental Polaroid photography in coordination with The Impossible Project.
Hey Oliver! So, we heard you sometimes put your photos in the microwave. How and when did you develop this technique?
One day I had the idea to burn the photographs while developing them – just for fun. I realized that they developed way faster, but the fire destroyed the pictures. I already knew from older experiments that it is not helpful to cook them, so I decided instead to misuse my flatmate’s microwave.
At first the radiation started to burn the pictures because of the metallic elements in the film, but at least the polaroids got developed in a few minutes. I just needed to find a way to save the photograph and get better control of the nuking process. In the end, I was able to reduce the development time of 40 minutes to 3-5 minutes.
What happens to the image when you put it in the microwave?
The most important thing is the microwave. You need an old one. The newer models are too powerful and not easy to handle. Older machines allow you to regulate down and then turn up the heating.
I use the “warm over” setting on my microwave. I also use water to prevent the heating process from occurring unevenly and to press the air out. The glass is important to watch the process of destruction and to regulate the mistakes, burns and failures. If you use it, you need to be able to air out the room because it smells a lot; and if you do not take care, then you are going to feel it in your throat and lungs.
Many of your photos have an ethereal quality to them. Do you strive for a certain aesthetic when photographing and processing your images?
No, not really. It is a process and part of myself. When thinking about a project, I consciously start to collect ideas or symbols – quite often they arise in an unexpected situation or an uncertain way.
Usually, I work with self-made or modified lights rather than studio light. For instance, I am a big fan of paper tubes and aluminum foil. I prefer long exposure times to give the photograph the space to breathe in the moment. I guess it is those two components – the usage of light and time – that are very important to create that aesthetic.
Your main focus seems to be on people – portraits in particular. Why did you choose to focus on people? What do you find so fascinating about photographing people?
At the age of nine, my parents and I moved to a little village surrounded by forests, fields and old factory buildings. I took pictures of nature, and somehow I was not interested in people or portraits. Later on I got hired by a fashion label and realized that there is more than just commercial fashion photography. This is why people became my main interest as a photographer. I am fascinated by the most important visual focus point of a human body: the face.
You’re hosting a workshop during the Impossible Partner Store Opening in Berlin. What can people expect to learn at this “Special Microwave Session”?
At the exhibition I am going to demonstrate the microwave technique. I have already given some workshops in collaboration with Impossible and Jörn Freitag. A few visitors are going to get their own nuked polaroids too.
In the future, there will be three to four different kinds of workshops. One is the basic one with lifts, manipulations, double exposures and general basics about Polaroid, Impossible, the films and the cameras. Others will be more special, like the microwave workshop, creating solarizations, negatives, etc. using instant film material.
If you want to attend the workshop, take your own instant photo and have it “nuked’’ during the Impossible Partner Store Berlin Opening, check out the event here.
Thank you for sharing Oliver!