Tuesday, July 16, 2013

chameleon brain

back to talking about the everyday. i just read somewhere online about people doing a negative exchange program, i think that's great. this is how i got to step it up a notch with my darkroom skills. i used to print my friends' negs when i was in college, mostly because most people didn't like to print. it really showed me how much of a final image photographers have in mind when they hand you over their negs. it was a great learning period. at first i was just playing for my own purpose, truly interpreting what i was given, and not always to my friends' satisfaction. of course, i still do a lot of interpretive printing today, but at least now i know the questions to ask before i start, questions such as "what is the image about?", or "is this a series?", "are you done with the project, or is this ongoing?, even "can i see some of your other work?". once i know all that -and more- i can start thinking about the negative. don't forget, i don't start printing as soon as i receive a neg, i have a few days -weeks- usually until my schedule allows me. so, in the meantime, i think, i solve problems in my head, i visualize many final prints until one feels right. and the day i face the challenge i'm more relaxed about it. is it a portrait about hope or depression? got to make the print in context. i have to convey that message without being obvious. i put myself behind the camera, in the moment, you might even say role-play. i morph, become someone else. i try to get the satisfaction of capturing the moment a photographer gets when the shutter opens and shuts. i must have a chameleon in my brain. i fulfill -almost- all my darkroom fantasies. but that comes with a price: i can lose my own identity from time to time. if i hadn't become a printer i may have been a psychologist, able to enter someone else's brain and interpret their thoughts.
sometimes i draw from my experience as a live interpreter, or from my work as a literary translator -french|english, last one being a text for anne senstad venice biennal catalog- or in my everyday life with portuguese, or when i lived in spain, and went as far as dreaming in spanish, or when i first learnt english for that matter. all this helps to put words into images, and hopefully nothing gets lost in translation. i like to understand different cultures, understand where people come from, what their words and images really mean. printing as a career often goes way beyond printing. it's about the history of printing, and for certain photographer's estates, i have to understand past styles and points of view. sometimes i can be like a chameleon traveling through time, or different aesthetics. so when i talk about making an educated guess on my first exposure, i mean just that. all that.
looking back on my last 3 weeks in the darkroom, chasing after my short term memory, digging into the long term, i do feel lost. in the past 3 weeks i have been successively mitch epstein, elizabeth heyert, bruce gilden, tseng kwon chi, carrie mae weems, bob gruen, lisa oppenheim, n. vreeland, len prince and gordon parks. it could be worse as far as multiple personalities go, but derrida couldn't deconstruct me any more at this point. this is also why my darkroom needs to be a fortress of silence, where i can hear myself think and concentrate on the whole picture so the details don't get in my way. except for the moments of music during the actual exposing and processing. so for those who were wondering, this is why i'm a bit anti-social when i print... to be fair though, i don't think darkroom printers in general are social butterflies. once the door is closed the whole world seems to fade away. things move at a different pace in the dark, and printers spend, well, about 8 hours a day in there, moving between wet and dry, light on and off... but ask anyone of them: there's nothing quite like it.

analog writing?


David Simonton said...


Beautifully stated, as always. "...Concentrate on the whole picture so the details don't get in [the] way," is a favorite phrase among many. (You must have amazing ventilation in that darkroom to be able to form such cogent thoughts after a three week stint!)

Thank you again for sharing your hard-won insights into to essence of this subtle craft.


Jonas said...

Laurent, long time no see. I have followed your blog for a few weeks and look forward to your musings every time you write. Today was a great post, I miss those moments i the darkroom when it was you, the paper and the trays, enjoy them! Hope all is well and send my best to Charles.

Jonas Gustavsson

Jeff said...

Well said Laurent!