Lights on in the Darkroom
January 28, 2008 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Darkroom book images, You may have had to of spent 100's of hours in a darkroom to appreciate this project. "Images articulated around the decline of silver-gelatin photography" Book from Nazraeli Press by Michel Campeau. {via darius himes blog}
posted by doug3505 (17 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Gah- I don't care if I ever smell fixer or acid stop bath ever again. Or potassium ferrocyanide, for that matter. Good Riddance.
posted by pjern at 11:00 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and stay the heck off my lawn!
posted by pjern at 11:04 PM on January 28, 2008

I was going to say something all mean and nippy about how Benjamin's essay is really translated as "..age of its mechanical reproducibility", but actually, the collection of photos do invoke the darkroom really strongly. I almost smell the sour smell of fixer. Mmm.

Here's to those alchemists still working in chemical darkrooms, turning celluloid and silver halides into magic. *raises glass*
posted by suedehead at 11:14 PM on January 28, 2008

I really like these. I work for the photo center at my college. Our darkroom is well equipped and pristine, so it's cool to see someone's grimy basement darkroom with all the quirks.

Surprisingly, almost all of the photo students still use film. We have an amazing digital setup with great scanners, beautiful monitors, and epson 9800 printers, but something draws students to the wet darkroom anyway. Maybe it's our old-school faculty. I'm learning how to print color film right now and it's just beautiful. There's something you don't get with inkjet prints.

On the other hand, we're talking mostly artistic photography here. Give me a photojournalism assignment and you'd have to pry the digital SLR from my hands. Film is a luxury for when beauty is more important than getting it done.
posted by scose at 12:12 AM on January 29, 2008

I'm torn on the film vs digital thing.
On the one hand, photo class and the darkroom are some of my favorite memories of high school, and I can understand the nostalgia for them, as well as the craftsmanship required in all the steps between exposure and print. I loved the strange language of fixer and developer, toners and bleaches, the precision of mixing chemicals: "72 degrees! 1 part developer to six parts water! Shake four times, tap twice, repeat!" and the seeming wantonness of pseudo-solarization1 ( and the glow of accomplishment as you stuck your print in the dryer and realize that convincing your mom to let you wrap her in white christmas lights was so totally worth it.2

At the same time, since moving to a DSLR3, I find myself less constrained by wondering if all the effort that goes into a shot will be worth it, and resultantly taking more risks (and getting better photos 4), and that, for me, tilts the argument towards film.

That said, there are still things that film does better; I had a friend pick up a medium-format camera so he could do prints on fiber paper5 and from what I understand, medium- and large-format films are pretty much untouchable by digital 6

Now that I've indulged in an aside worthy of David Foster Wallace, on to the post's subject:
I understood the aim to capture everything in the detached manner of the crime photographer, but I imagine that a crime photog would do so with substantially greater attention to details and incongruities; I'm not expecting 5:1 macro shots of the f-stop knob on the enlarger, but I think that more shots of the human-occupancy details of darkrooms would be in line with the message and also further project the expectations of obsolescence and to some degree rejection.

I did like the one with the film canisters and paper clips, though.

1. "wait. I develop this halfway, and then stick it under the light again? what? AWESOME."
2. actually did this for Photography 11; they were white christmas lights wrapped around her upper body as she did utterly normal things (as best possible) - I wish I still had that print.
3. Canon 30D, with 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 lenses from a Canon Rebel XS and a Pentax K1000 before that.
4. I think so, anyway; Flickr link is in profile.
5. which I make no pretense of understanding, as he's working on a BFA and I'm doing a double major in Psych and American Studies.
6. Or at least large-format is; I remember seeing that the newest high-end Canon (the 1ds Mk.III, I believe) was getting awful close to medium-format film resolutions.

posted by heeeraldo at 12:17 AM on January 29, 2008

tilts the argument towards film.
I meant to say digital. It's difficult to restrain pen and tongue in a media that involves neither.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:18 AM on January 29, 2008

The next time you have a Polaroid instant photo to spare, zap it in the microwave oven for just 2 or 3 seconds while the picture is still developing; interesting images are produced.
posted by Tube at 12:42 AM on January 29, 2008

On the plus side of technological change, used darkroom equipment is becoming really cheap to get hold of.... much to the annoyance of my other half...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:41 AM on January 29, 2008

I'd love to have a darkroom. I enjoyed the craft immensely the two semesters I got to experience it, waaaaay back in the triassic period. That said, dude's darkroom is a friggin' mess.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:26 AM on January 29, 2008

the loss of film is upsetting - how are they gonna keep the poor people out now ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:50 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Coming from someone who's in the process of setting up his own darkroom: even after making adjustments in Photoshop, I fail to feel the same kind of authorship of the photograph that I get from making my own prints.
posted by popcassady at 5:21 AM on January 29, 2008

This FPP couldn't be timelier for me -- for the last week I have been dismantling a co-op darkroom that went belly-up due to lack of interest and commitment. I'm no retro retread Luddite, and I love digital photography and what can be done with it, but it's really sad to see all of this equipment and the potential that it represents going to the trash heap. Silver photography has a beautiful quality all its own. As for sgt. serenity's comment, all I can say is: huh? Who are "they", and why were they so concerned with keeping the poor people "out"? I shoot a lot of medium- and large-format with second-hand equipment, and at this point I can't afford the investment I'd need to make in hardware and software to produce all-digital images of similar quality. This might change in the near future (see heeeraldo's comment re: high-end digital Canon vs. medium format), but for now I'm using film for reasons that are anything but elitist. That said, I acknowledge that some aspects of darkroom work are simply a pain in the ass, and I'll be delighted to leave them behind forever.
posted by newmoistness at 7:25 AM on January 29, 2008

This makes me want to get back in the darkroom. It could be such a frustrating process at times, but when you were in the zone it felt so damn good.
posted by piratebowling at 7:40 AM on January 29, 2008

I've done a fair bit of traditional silver-halide B&W (with the endless binders of sleeved negatives to prove it), and recently I've migrated over to doing more digital, but not really willingly. If I had my choice I'd still shoot Plus-X and forgo histograms for test strips and get up to my elbows in chemicals. But it's just so much easier to do it digitally, and being able to share the end-product via Flickr is beyond cool.

That said, I can't tell you the number of times I've taken a negative that I know would be a great print on fiber or RC, and seen it transformed into something that's just mediocre on the screen. I'd like to blame my film scanner but I don't think that's really it; there's something fundamentally different about the medium. Images that start out life as film (or with me thinking about them as/on film) rarely seem to survive the translation to digital very well.

Images that start off as digital from the very begining are different altogether. The shooting process itself is changed. I take photos differently when I have a 1000-image memory card than when I have a 35-exp or 12-exp roll. (I've always noticed that a large percentage of my 'good' images come from the last 5-7 exposures on a roll, probably because at that point I'm aware of the film running out and am working harder to compose.) There's a lot more spray-and-pray, and the results are consequently different.

All that said, I try not to pine too hard for the medium in general. I doubt I'll ever be fully comfortable with the range of options that digital provides (in fact I think a lot of my problems stem from the computer not restricting me the way that a darkroom does; it lets the user do some really egregious stuff), but I suspect the students who never learn to think in chemical-photography terms will do for digital photography what the first generation of chemical photographers who weren't trained as painters did.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:14 AM on January 29, 2008

Fantastic - obviously digital photography is a lot more convenient for snapshots, but seeing these photos brings back wonderful memories of hour after hour after hour spent in the darkroom in high school, trying to get that perfect print. I'd forgotten how much fun it was, actually, and how much I missed it. I don't think it's necessarily any more of an art than well-crafted digital photographs, but the process itself and all the funny (and sometimes irritating) little quirks and makeshift technologies that come with it is something wonderful that gets lost when you go digital.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2008

There is a nostalgia in these photos. As I write it I realize how crazy it is to say that. The darkroom was such a religious experience, but also dirty, stinky, and boring too. I have surely spent more time in darkrooms than I have ever spent in a house of worship. I miss the smells the magic of printing. Printing photographs can allow the human hand to be involved with the process. That can happen in digital through photoshop but is rarely seen. And I have to say, it is art that retains the human element, digital with the human hand or touch that excels for me.
posted by doug3505 at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2008

1. I am a darkroom kind of guy. I prefer prints on paper -- fiber paper. Digital is a hell of a lot less frustrating though, I'll grant you that.

2. I've taken a lot of photos of the stuff in darkrooms; it's a great way to finish a roll of film before processing. For that reason, I find it very hard to appreciate these photos.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:00 AM on January 30, 2008

« Older U2FU?   |   Directors Behaving Badly Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments