One of the things I love about film photography is how it encourages today’s creative minds to experiment. Younger photographers in particular are finding more and more ways to use its unique look and even its flaws to craft a visual story or heighten its mood.

Among the most interesting and intriguing ways I’ve seen it done so far are in the gritty, black and white Polaroid portraits by Hangzou-based Xi Huang.

The fact that he doesn’t really provide much info, if at all, in his photos makes his work even more enigmatic. But, if you’re interested in experimental photography styles, I’m going to at least try to make sense of these surreal portraits. Hopefully, his work will give you some ideas and inspiration for your next project!

Tapping into the dreamy look of Polaroid prints

Polaroid has been around for decades. While it declined in the late 1990s, the recent decade saw a renewed interest in instant photography as part of the film photography resurgence. As more and more younger photographers got their hands on expired Polaroid packs, the dreamy and retro look created by the medium also rose to popularity. It eventually became popular especially for experimental portraits.

While Polaroid — both the brand and the medium — lives on today with some modern features and adjustments, its experimental nature and aesthetic at heart, are still the same. So, it’s not unheard of for a photographer today to also shoot with a Polaroid camera for personal projects. Or, for digital images to be printed on Polaroid film.

Xi Huang’s self-portrait

Of course, I’m not the only one interested in Huang’s process. In a comment under one of his “Untitled 006” photos, he answered a question about his blurry but beautiful work. He uses an iPhone to take the photos, then edits it with a Photoshop brush before printing it onto Polaroid films.

Exploring strange and surreal imagery for portraits

There are a number of reasons why I like Huang’s intriguing use of Polaroid prints for his trippy portraits. First, it gives us ideas on how to push the boundaries of both portrait photography and film photography. Also, it’s a great representation of how photographers can use characteristics often thought of as imperfections to create unique visual styles and stories.

In fact, I love how he used these imperfections — blurs, grains and distortions — to add an air of mystery and a gripping strangeness to his photos. Add the built-in moody quality of Polaroid prints and you have a body of work guaranteed to trigger an emotional response in the viewers.

If you’re also intrigued by these Polaroid snaps, go ahead and check out Xi Huang’s Behance portfolio to stay updated with his work.

All photos by Xi Huang. Used with Creative Commons permission.