Monday, March 16, 2015

about closing the darkroom door

99% acidic swirl

yes, no doubt, the darkroom can be an escape from the turmoil of the world outside.  and i use it as such often.
outside my darkroom people kill each other for their beliefs.  outside my darkroom people are afraid of what they don't understand.  outside my darkroom there is plenty of light, yet most people wear blinders.  i like to close the door to my darkroom.
most in the industry think of a printer as a technician.  sure.  that's part of it, but some of us have an opinion about what we print.  every day i make prints that will be looked at, analyzed, criticized, etc.  every day in my darkroom, i make an effort to respect the medium, the world of silver printing.  i make an effort to support the subject, to emphasize its meaning.  before i close the door of my darkroom i need to know how the image came about.  the narrative helps me make decisions as i expose the paper.
no, i don't like all the images i print, and i don't even like all the prints i make.  i must remember though, they are not for me.  when i make a print i don't care for, of an image i don't particularly like, then i become a technician.  i become a machine-like operator who can lay down shades of gray wherever appropriate.  sometimes my passion is a job.  although i have been lucky to have printed most negatives that i have.  i don't want to only be a technician.  i call that the ansel adams syndrome: to be able to control each and every halide on a piece of film, but nowhere left to add any point of view or emotion.  i exaggerate perhaps, but most printers are just technicians (and the mere mention of ansel adams gets a little bit more attention).  i don't like being in that position, but it does happen sometimes.
outside my darkroom people make new images.  outside my darkroom, people have ideas about what a print should look like.  but inside my darkroom, i rely on my experience as an artist to make objects of desire, pieces of paper one wants to touch and feel.  inside my darkroom, i try not to think about other prints that are being made through different processes.  i print negatives exposed to be printed on a silver gelatin emulsion.  as simple as that.  i made the choice to print silver gelatin after making prints many other ways.  my first job as a printer was to make c-prints and duratrans.  over the years i have made c-prints, platinum, palladium, gum bichromate, cyanotype, digital-c, giclĂ©e, inkjet, pigment, carbon, etching, cibachrome, etc.  with or without a lens, from 1/4 inch square to 72x120 inches.  my point is: a printer prints.  any kind of print.  that's what a printer does.  a fine art printer sees what's off with a print and makes it feel better.  as simple as that.  some people are good at editing others' words, and some have a visual vocabulary that cannot be seen.
outside my darkroom i am as invisible as i am inside.
printers specialize nowadays, just like everyone else, and i chose to concentrate on silver gelatin.  it's the process of my era, i understand it.  i know how to make it look its best precisely because i have worked with other processes.  to me, it's a constant in the ever changing world outside my darkroom.  it's a process that relies on very few manufacturers to go on.  it's a process getting a second wind.
the ever changing world outside my darkroom doesn't have much room for such a slow and expensive process.  but as long as people will look for prints as objects, older photographic processes will survive.  platinum print makers moved to digital negatives long ago, it adapted without agfa np31 emulsion (!).  things tend to change and evolve over time.
inside my darkroom i think about people being afraid of what they don't understand.  and if you call the appearance of an image in the developer 'magical', then think about all the magic digital photography has to offer: most photographers don't know how their digital camera, or scanner, really works.  it doesn't really matter, very few photographers have cared to know how light sensitive emulsions work anyway.  the technology of photography has become so advanced that scientists alone need to understand it.  i just hope we don't forget to bridge the gap between art and science so we can enjoy the evolution of the photographic adventure with passion.  perhaps the future of my profession will be to make different types of screen surfaces.  it's already started: i can't look at the new generation of glossy screens, i can only appreciate an image on a flat matte screen like the eizo.  i work with mac computers but could never have an imac.  i don't like the way high gloss looks.  it hurts my eyes every time i look at an image on my phone screen.  that's why i stick to printing for now...
yes, outside my darkroom people are afraid of what they don't understand.  to understand every possible way to make a print takes research and dedication.  it takes getting rid of our printing prejudices and work with the process best suited for our images, that we can afford.  no need to be afraid of the processes we don't understand, we just need to educate ourselves a bit further.  the best way to pick a process is to try as many processes as possible.  i favor film and silver prints for my own work, but i also use digital files, in color, chromogenic or pigmented.  i also know that silver gelatin printing relies on precise and complicated manufacturing to exist, and that could be its downfall, unlike alternative processes where you do your own coating.  the film and paper i use everyday are not handmade, they comes from an automated process with machines that break down, suppliers that go in and out of business, it's an industry.  and if that industry no longer benefits from making these products, it will adapt and make other products to survive.  although i don't believe it will be anytime soon.

i love the feeling of closing a darkroom door, whether it swings or slides.  rotating doors are just not the same.  neither are mazes.  maybe it's just me.

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