The Darkroom from Wet to DryWednesday, April 11, 2018
There is a lingering memory that I have treasured all these years about projecting a b+w negative with an enlarger on photographic paper and then inserting into a tray of developer. Then to see that image slowly emerge was thrilling magic. Since that event, 1961, to about two years ago I never lost my thrill for working in my darkroom. The smells of chemicals never bothered me and the magic was always there.
As a magazine photographer (I began around 1977) I always processed my b+w film and printed the 8x10s that art directors wanted from me. The idea of depending on a lab to interpret my negative was anathema.
Then magazines started demanding colour. I shot Ektachromes and Kodachromes. These originals were then made into was then called colour separations which were then printed onto magazine pages.
One art director, in particular, Chris Dahl (an artist in his own right) one day said this to me, “You always print your b+ws to your own satisfaction. I want you to print, now, colour negatives, big ones, at least 11x14inches using all those burn and dodge techniques you use for b+w. Since I already knew how to print slides and colour negatives this was not that much of a chore but a chore it was.
Two years ago a few weeks before we moved to our present Kitsilano duplex my darkroom flooded. Before it did I was printing as much stuff as possible using every available package of paper that I had at my disposal. The flood cemented in my mind that my darkroom days were over. I grieved.
That grief did not last all that long. In the interim I have been shooting lots of discontinued Fuji Instant Film in b+w and in colour. This film fits my old Mamiya Polaroid back. The results I scan. Because these scans are digital files there really is no practical way of printing them in what we used to call a wet darkroom (even wet before a flood!).
I have had for some years an excellent flatbed scanner that scans photographs, slides and negatives (and my plant scans!). It is an Epson Perfection V700 Photo. Not far from it is a Canon Pro-1 inkjet printer (prints up to 13 by 19 inches) suggested by Jeff Gin from Leo’s Camera on Granville.
This is what I have discovered. There is a thrill at seeing my photograph on my Dell Cathode Ray Tube Monitor (accurately calibrated it is) and then press print and get (after a few delaying minutes) a print that is exactly like the one on the monitor.
The photographs I take with both my Fuji X-E1 and X-E3 and with my dedicated, camera only iPhone3G could never be printed in that wet lab. I have adapted to the times.
But I must now interject something that perhaps is not known by too many people.
In times past photographers like Ansel Adams or Edward Weston would sign in pencil the back of their photographs. What this meant was that the print was printed by the photographer who took the photograph.
I am having a show in Buenos Aires at the Vermeer Gallery in the first weeks of September of this year. All my inkjets will be signed in pencil in the back.
Tradition persists even if it has been modified.
Addendum: I print with only one kind of paper, Hahnemüle Fine Art Bamboo Natural Warm Tone. In my magazine days I always went for accuracy and I used photographic paper that gave me absolute whites and blacks that were black because I dipped my prints in Kodak Selenium Toner (a known carcinogen. At age 75 I may be a lucky man). But now with age I prefer not a stark white but a warm tone one. I like the heft (290 GSM). Prints look like the real McCoy. And they are!