Black and White Musings

April 11, 2007 § Leave a comment

Finally, having a week off to do nothing, absolutely nothing! However, busier than ever, to whom ever may be reading this, or who has the interest. This past summer a friend of mine, who is much handier than myself, helped me build a place to create my black and white musings.

My SO complained about building the darkroom, saying it was obsolete, darkrooms are relics of the past, no one is photographing with film, processing film, let alone printing black and white images onto silver gelatin. She spent months trying to convince me that I should switch to digital, all digital, state of the art equipment, instead of building a darkroom, an inuaguration to the 21st century, if you will. Ahhhhhhh, but being stubborn, stuck in the past, a digital darkroom? What for? What would one do with a digital darkroom? Besides, the cost to build a real darkroom is significantly less than a digital darkroom, especially if it is state of the art, unlike a digital one, which would only be that way for a month or so.

A real darkroom will always be state of the art. Every photography company has already made what ever enlargers they made; companies are no longer inventing new light sources, or chasis’ for the pleasure of printing–condensor, cold light or diffusion, what else could they build? They already exist, they probably cannot be made for much better, and besides, if it breaks, it can be fixed, unlike a computer, a scanner, or a printer, not having to worry about updating software, purchasing ink, or callibrating the monitoring. However, there is a true fear to how long paper or chemistry will be available.

Preferring the darkroom, the same way Eugene Smith did, left to his own devices, while printing, listening to jazz, drinking, and the ambience of the orange-tinged light. Also preferring to be left to my own devices, the intimacy that develops between you and your images, often times a point of departure, printing into the wee hours of the night, as if nothing else exists, you and your negatives, the affixation of chemistry, the sultry air, and the inhalation of fumes. After a days work smelling like chemistry, is like a right of passage, uncertain of what right of passage we are speaking of? Perhaps once when photographers embraced the alchemy of the photographic processes?

In the dark, cut off from the rest of the world, as when you are travelling, no internet, phones, or news of any kind, lost in a world of darkness, and the halo of light emitted by the enlarger. It is a beautiful moment to see your image being projected, loosely, onto a flat, two-dimmensional surface, suspended in air, bringing to life, from your experience, your memory, from what you have read in books, learned from other alchemists, their knowledge of chemistry, mixing everything just so, combining the materials, so what lays on the flat surface will be developed and brought into daylight.

The magic of chemistry, when combined to the silver, embedded in the photorgaphic paper. Real silver, not immitation, not like ink, from ink jet cartridges, translating the tonal values by logarithms that software engineers created, but real formulas manufactured and developed over time, so the photographer can translate their vision, by hand, with silver and the chemical. Why would anyone want to sit in front of a computer to manipulate their image in photoshop, and print it out on nonphotographic materials? An immitation if you will. Maybe for color this is an accpetable thing to do, or is it? But why for black and white?

It seems our society is lazy. Wanting everything immediately, immediate results, immediate gratification, not the unexpected immediacy either, but perfected immediacy, automated perfection, no room for error, no room for the human quality, no room for the human experience due to the possibility of imperfections, images that once took several days or weeks before we could view them, with anticipation, but now, the automation, the need for the instant, snap, click, a few seconds later, your image, viewed on the back of the screen–this is what poloroid is for–and if we don’t like we see, we delete it; so much for saving the images we don’t like! And the click one is accustumed to hearing, is also automated for the average snapshot hobbyist, to give them another dimmension of the sensation that a shutter is being released, letting you know, you just exposed your frame. It serves no purpose, except sensation, of what use to be with that of film cameras and for a pupose.

This is what I love and miss about the true photographic process, viewing 36 images exposed, having limited opportunities to capture what you are experiencing. This is a process, a thinking process, you are expected to think–another problem with society–people don’t want to think, they want everything to be done for them. The nature of the photographic, embraces thought, thought of vision, thought of seeing, thoughtfulness, thought of tonal value, thought of color,and te psychology of color, thinking in the moment, sometimes at an 1/8 of a second, panning the camera so your subject will be in focus while your background, blurred, and the action sustained on film. Thinking how to translate onto film what is being seen? Where is the artistry that use to exist? Where is the imagination in the photogprahic process that was exhibited by a myriad of photographers; Nadar, Brady, O’sullivan, Curtis, the debate between Robinson and Emerson, the conceptual vs. the found object?

We think of nothing except for the immediacy. Part of the excitment with photography was waiting to see your results, the anticipation, walking up to the counter, waiting for the clerk to find your name on the package, delivering it to yur hand, having to pay first, your excitement, the feelings of intensity build, hearing the crinkling of the paper, at last, the glorious moment has arrived, your first print, then the second, you flip quickly and quietly, then view it again, one reviews it once you get home, happy with some, disappointed with others, but the feeling was always the same, the same anxious feeling time and time again, or for the photographer who processed their film, waiting in anticiapation for the film to be fixed, and waiting once again for them to be dry, to the making of the contact sheets, then maybe a 5×7 or an 8×10 enlargement, and the discovery of that one image that comes to life. Out of 36 exposures, discovering that one magical image, where timing meant everything, the angels and gods shined brightly down upon you, transcending a moment, photogaphed in 1/60 of second or less, to be adorned and encapsulated forever.

The contact sheet, glorious moments of 36 exposures, perfectly laid out images, displayed, waiting to be viewed, all begging for your attention, this is where a real photographic education begins, not in a classroom, not when photographing, but viewing, in plain sight, the contact sheet. The secrets revealed, to learn from, to embrace the moments, studying your visual odyessies, your recordings, your Black and White musings!

This is why my dear, I would never invest in a state of the art digital darkroom! I can’t create in light, it needs to be done in darkness, like dreaming, in solitude, listening to music, under the safety of the safe light. Where one can think, where one can take their time to develop their thoughts, where one can dream and envision how his musings should look. All the tones are there, waiting for you to discover their secrets, discovering them as they are revelead, yours to discover, along with the moments of frustration. It is a time when I can leave this world, not be bothered by trivial pursuits, such as laundry, grocery shopping, washing the car, cleaning the house, or sex. Transcending, to another plane, solitude is mine, thinking is mine, the moment to create is mine, all in black and white, all in the spectrum, of grays, blacks, and whites.

A darkroom is for all of this, for all of these moments, to relive what one experiences when photographing. A digital darkroom is no place to discover all these things, in pieces, or as a whole, as the whole world is at your fingertips, your SO, asking you to do this or that, your children asking you to do this or that, your pets wanting you to do this or that, phone calls, being bombarded by one question after another, and in between, moments of looking online perhaps your next digital musing, perhaps your fantasy, a brief moment of escape, more brief than my exposure onto film, and in the darkroom, left alone, no questions, unbothered by fantasy, lost in my own moments, my own thoughts, away from the internet, discovering piece by piece each tone I want to exaggerate.

My black and white musings . . .

To experience this feeling rent three DVDs: CONTACTS 1, 2, AND 3!

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