I have always found the darkroom to be a magical place. There is not only a mystical romance about the physical space, the safelight, the smells, the projected image onto the easel, but the sense of excitement I get from processing film is also quite unique. Sometimes the films back up for weeks and then the wet processed films remind me of what I’ve been photographing. Quite often strangers, framed and frozen forever into my archive. I love it!
There is a slow but satisfying process of order required to manage the negatives. Once processed and dried I put them in clear sleeves and contact print them as you can see in the gallery below. I store the contact prints in boxes that allow me to edit them and mark up my selections for print. The contact prints are also really great ‘family albums’ in their own right. Small thumbnail filmstrips of life with handwritten notes and memories.
I’ve come back into this draft post quite a few times now because I’m currently helping an auld friend decommission his darkroom, and it’s been quite an emotional experience. Robert Burns – no really – has been a photographic printer for most of his adult life and is now in his early 70’s. For Robert the long days of standing at the enlarger are over and I am helping him strip out an incredible purpose built darkroom to make way for a new ‘digital darkroom’
The process has not been emotional from a position of sadness, Robert’s passion and enthusiasm for photography is so contagious that I can only smile and be happy at his desire to start again in a photographic world that is somewhat foreign, but will hopefully be kinder on his knees!
I’ve found the process emotional because a darkroom becomes like a walk in family album. The proof prints pinned to the wall, the drawers with forgotten prints of his son Neil, now a very accomplished jazz guitarist. A traditional darkroom is full of physical tactile objects that all have a history. In his career Robert has printed for David Eustace, the late and very dear friend David Peat, legendary fashion photographer Fabrizio Gianni who quite wonderfully doesn’t seem to have a website. Robert has also been responsible for printing most of the archive of the late Margaret Watkins, and evidence of these great photographers and their lives is also present in Roberts darkroom. Contact prints, test prints, proof prints and a few cheeky wee nudes. It has actually been quite magical to help rationalise the space and get it ready for the next chapter.
There is no doubt that this method of photography is not what might be considered practical as a business model in todays digital world but I can’t ever see the process losing it’s appeal. And it is the process I enjoy. It’s almost irrelevant to me that I can make beautiful black and white digital prints, and I can make them look like film, or silver gelatin. The process of digital printing is very different and a lot of the magic disappears, for me at least. It becomes more mechanised, more controllable, more predictable, more….actually, less fun.
I also know in my heart that if I made 2 prints – both identical – but one was an inkjet print and the other a darkroom print I would always value the darkroom print more as a result of understanding the process behind each print. Very subjective I know, and possibly even controversial to some but frankly my darling!
Anyway, I have decided to start looking back over my mostly unseen negatives to print a physical archive of limited edition darkroom prints. I’m going to print 10 of each print and offer the first 3 of each edition for sale at £175 each. The prints will all be on fibre based paper, toned and thoroughly washed and slowly dried in blotting paper on drying racks. If you are interested simply email me with your postal address and I will send you a paypal invoice including postage and the deal will be done. Simples!
The first print is an image I made many, many moons ago – I think in 2000 – of the ballerina Micaela Greganti. It was made during rehearsals in Glasgow and is a very special print for me as the complete edition of 10 prints are made using the very last box of 12×16 Agfa Classic fibre based paper I own. I love that paper so much.
This is a split grade print which has been toned in selenium and I’ve included a few images of the print process below: –