This isn’t the first image I ever printed in the darkroom using an enlarger – but it is the first I’ve felt comfortable sharing. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about film development and printing over the last few weeks, and while I have plenty more to learn, it’s time to start sharing images with you.
I like the idea of posting these images as scanned prints, rather than as scanned and edited negatives. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it allows me to do my post-processing in the darkroom, the old-fashioned way. I never did edit my images too much in Lightroom, but this restricts me even more, and forces me to take the time to hand-craft each print. I’m still learning about analogue printing, but I have tried my hand at dodging and burning prints, which is far more difficult under an enlarger than in Lightroom. Each print, even if it’s from the same frame, and I edit it in the same way, will be unique, and I find that thought beautiful.
The second is that it allows me to see images not as abstract concepts or files on a hard drive, but as physical objects that I can hold in my hands. Negatives, of course, are also physical, but as soon as you scan and edit them I feel like that fades. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would never tell anyone how to create their art, but this is my preference. To me photographs should be physical, like paintings or sculptures. Even with my digital work I try to print as often as I can, but getting professionally-made prints at a lab is expensive, and it makes me feel more abstracted from the process. When I print in the darkroom, I’m seeing my images through to the very end, like photographic children.
Over the last week I’ve been spending a bit of time in the university photography society’s darkroom, which is fully equipped for B&W development and printing, as well as C41 development. I already knew a bit about development, but had never actually done it until a couple of weeks ago. The satisfaction I felt at opening up the developing tank to a roll of negatives was an incredible feeling. I’ve shot a few rolls since, and went back to develop them as soon as I’d finished all my exams.
This contact sheet shows the images from my second roll of film – a roll of Ilford Delta 100, shot on a Praktica MTL3. This post isn’t really about the images on this contact sheet – those I’ll talk about another time. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on the darkroom process itself.
I’m so used to sitting in front of a computer screen, keyboard and mouse in hand, and editing my images in Lightroom with music piped into my ears. I work really well in that environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of pace, and the darkroom offered that. Development took about an hour in total, and for that entire time I was alone, in silence, with no other distractions. It was therapeutic. The end result is not a folder on a computer full of digital files, mere abstractions from the images they represent. Once you’re done with development you have a binder sheet of negatives you can hold up to the light – something which is still a novelty to me!
It’s such a tactile process, something sorely missing from the Lightroom experience I’m used to. The entire experience makes me almost want to switch over to B&W film photography entirely, and I can completely understand why many people love it so much. The jury is still out for me, but I am certain of one thing – I will be in the darkroom again.