In the 1970s Sigmar Polke produced a series of photographic suites based on his journeys to Paris (1971), New York (1973), Afghanistan and Pakistan (1974) and Sco Paulo (1975). While in Quetta, Pakistan in 1974 he shot numerous images of opium dens "that ultimately became some of the most visually exquisite and most carefully crafted photographs in his entire oeuvre." (Schimmel, p. 72) Some of the resulting photographs were straight prints, others were manipulated in the darkroom and still others, like Quetta, Pakistan, were embellished by hand with colorful egg tempera inks and gold and silver paint. As opulent as nineteenth-century Orientalist images, Polke's representation does not, however, isolate and thereby objectify the smokers as exotic curiosities. Rather they are viewed from across the den, behind other smokers, thereby positioning the artist (and the viewer) as den dwellers themselves.
While Polke gives color to the smokers's clothing and faces, as well as to the walls of the den, he reserves the gold for inpainting the imperfections of the photograph, namely scratches in the negative. As Paul Schimmel remarks:
"Polke elaborated these imperfections to such a degree that they form a scrim of scratches, glitches, and dots between the viewer and the subject. In so doing, he created the visual equivalent of the "white noise"-the hum of murmuring voices-that both disrupts and ultimately informs the ritualized proceeding of the consumption of opium ... (T)hese images materialize a sense of the experience produced by consuming the drug (Schimmel, op. cit, p. 72).
Beginning with his 1971 Paris photographs printed using experimental techniques while under the influence of LSD, Polke exploited the photographic process as a means to alter "reality." He sought to expand the representational possibilities of photography beyond the objective to include the poetic, in a way that paralleled the mind-expanding effect of drugs. Like his Surrealist predecessors (Man Ray, for example), Polke embraced chance and accident in the darkroom and, in the case of Quetta, Pakistan, highlighted them. The intent, however, was not to tap into some mysterious unconscious realm, but rather to simulate an alternative perception of reality.