Altering Photographs

Collage tile
My altered photograph collage, “Love is Blind” available on

In the process of moving, I ran across a box of photos from my younger days, including lots of the beautiful cliffs and canyons of New Mexico.  I decided to use the photos to practice altered photography techniques.  First, I read a book by Karen Michel, The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery.  The book explains several methods for altering photographs.  One of the easiest ways is to alter 35mm photographs with sandpaper and and awl.    Dip the photo in water for about thirty seconds.  While it is wet, you can sand away the emulsion with sandpaper.  You can start at the edges or sand away particular areas.  You can use an awl or other sharp tool to scratch away finer areas or to create borders or words. 

Once you’re satisfied with the sanding, you can add back in or accentuate color with watercolors, paints, and markers.  Watercolor pencils dipped in water work beautifully.
The experiments with my photos yielded more failures than successes, but it’s such an easy and fun technique to use.  If you have photos you don’t mind mutilating, give it a try.
The image in the collage above, Love is Blind, was originally an interesting rock formation — two long thin rocks that rose side by side from the canyon floor.  The couple in an embrace just kind of emerged as I used an awl to scratch a border of sorts around the rocks.  Unfortunately, I learned a hard lesson.  I forgot to make a copy of the photo first, so I can’t show a before and after image.