Shedding light on the subject

RETRO FOTO: Darkroom Nostalgia

The Signature Awards are here again, which means a short trip down memory lane for those who are entering. In reviewing my work from 2010, I stumbled across a Signature Awards call for entries from way back—a piece I had shot for the 1998 event.

Upon this discovery, I was immediately struck by the contrast between the sheer amount of work required to achieve certain aesthetic results a decade ago versus what can be attained digitally today in fraction of the time. The five images below were produced entirely in the darkroom, and the process for all five, from first print to end print, took over 12 hours.

At the time that these images were produced, the photographic industry had reached the peak of what was possible by analogue means of photo-chemical image reproduction. Aside from the introduction of colour, the process of darkroom printing has remained largely the same: a negative was exposed, developed, placed in a condensing or diffusing enlarger, backlit, filtered onto a sheet of photosensitive paper and processed through various chemical baths. The final print was analyzed for technical and subjective issues, the process was repeated again and again, until a satisfactory result was attained. And while the quality of materials and the technology to reproduce images vastly improved, photographers and ex-darkroom technicians (such as myself) spent their free time mudding up this process to achieve unique and stylized results.

There were many techniques one could exploit, such as "pushing" or "pulling" film as it was being developed, boiling then freezing the film in between chemical baths, sandwiching multiple negatives together during printing, Polaroid transfers and my personal favourite—the print-to-print process, or using paper prints as negatives.

The images below are the result of the print-to-print process. They are unique not only in the increased saturation and contrast, but also in the fact that the actual paper fibre pattern from the paper negative was exposed right onto the end print—the over-all result lending the photo a painterly effect.

Part of the fun in working with this technique was the randomness of the final result. A minor adjustment anywhere in the process could change things radically in the final. Unfortunately, that same randomness often spiked the already high production costs and worked against its adoption as a regular service to advertising clients.



Original concept and design by Fusion

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