Why I Still Create Fine Art Prints in the Darkroom
I love when people ask me why I still print in the darkroom and haven't "gone digital". I am not quite sure what "having gone digital" really means, but I think I understand what most people mean by this question and inference.
I can only answer this question for myself, because I have no idea why any other photographer, analog or digital, chooses their medium and workflow. I will forego any darkroom or film versus digital banter in this article because your time is more valuable than that.
First and foremost, I create. I create with intent and my output is a fine print intended to be viewed and appreciated by people. I am primarily a large format black and white photographer that uses the zone system, but that doesn't define me. Black and white photography is about light for me. No other genre captures the feeling of light like black and white silver gelatin prints.
The darkroom has more possibilities than I have time to explore, much less master. The wide variety of mediums (film, paper negatives, direct positive paper, dry plates, ortho film, wet plate, etc.) helps me transcend the difficulties that are inherent with sharing an experience in a three-dimensional world to a two-dimensional print or plate. In simple terms, each of these mediums has their own unique characteristics and qualities that I match up with my vision for my subject or scene. I have mastered every aspect of my workflow and that releases me to focus on the creative aspects.
If you are unfamiliar with the zone system, it is a method that I use in the exposure of my negative, along with the development and printing to recreate my original vision of scene or subject as I pre-visualized at the time of exposure. In order to use the zone system, you must have complete control over your negative medium, exposure, and development processes. This can only happen with proper testing that ultimately unleashes your creative vision. Others create beautiful prints without using the zone system and I enjoy and appreciate that. I love that we are free to pursue the methods and tools that match our style and vision.
I am passionate about creating my artwork with my hands in a very basic way. I love using raw materials to express my creative vision. I am very computer savvy, however, I don't use the computer in any part of my fine art process, other than marketing and communicating with my friends and peers and taking snapshots of my real prints and posting them online for others to view.
After I pre-visualize the story that I want to tell, I rely on my technical skills that I have earned over the years to produce the components necessary to meet my vision. This starts with my negative selection, then I move to exposure considerations, then my choice of developer, the length of development, paper selection, and ultimately dodging and burning as appropriate and a host of chemical formulas that I have at my disposal.
Making a fine art darkroom print is a long and physical process. I enjoy printing large gallery prints and this process is intense because the process is very physical and difficult to manage when working alone. I also love to create large format contact prints which require a controlled process with very high technical standards. There is nowhere to hide with large format contact prints. You are forced to get it right in the camera and on your negative.
If you enjoy articles like this, you can support this blog and new articles for only $2 per month.
I have no interest in creating digital negatives that are manipulated on the computer and printed to a clear film from an inkjet printer. I have helped others with the process and I know how to do it very well. I have no opinion if that is what others like to do, it just is not for me. The feeling of creating a flawless negative that ultimately creates the perfect print is unparalleled in my mind to anything that I could ever do in the digital realm.
The use of traditional mediums such as film, paper negatives, direct positive paper, dry plates, wet plate and others allows me to express how I see the world and how I want to communicate to my viewers. The last part is the key. It is how I want to communicate my stories in visual form to those that want to view and experience my art.
The textures, form, and presence that I am able to utilize in my darkroom process is my mode of communication to my viewers. One of my favorite photographers, Clyde Butcher, says "If you are going to create a piece of art, then why don't you do it right?". As Clyde says, creating prints in the darkroom is the true artisan way of making fine art prints. Every print is a unique project within itself and every print is slightly different. I only wish that Clyde had stayed committed to large format film.
Another important aspect of my choice of medium and workflow is my target market. I work with professional designers, galleries, and collectors that seek fine art prints that are unique and compelling. They know what they are getting and seek out my work because it meets their criteria. I am not sure the average person today fully appreciates the work that is required to create a fine art darkroom print. The perception of photography has been reduced to a mobile phone and "Photoshop" which makes me personally sad. Another possibility is that they do understand, but simply don't value it.
From the time I travel to a destination and locate a scene or subject to the time I create an actual fine art print that I am happy with, it may be weeks or even months. I have been tracking certain locations for years and still have not created the print that I have in my mind.
This time allows me to think and reflect and improve my prints. I see the slow and lengthy process as a benefit. When I stand in front of one of my gallery prints, everything that I have done up to that point is worth it, no matter how long it took.
You can support my writing for only $2 per month or $24 per year. I have been writing and sharing articles on all things darkroom photography and large format for nearly a decade now. Feel free to search my blog for topics of interest by entering your search phrase in the upper right corner. I send exclusive updates to my supporters.
Join thousands of photographers and fine art collectors from around the world and receive my exclusive Newsletter and never worry about missing a new article or update again.
You can view and purchase my limited edition Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine ArtTM gallery prints or my Platinum Histograph Heirloom MiniaturesTM from my online gallery. You can visit my Platinum Printmaking page to learn more about how I create my Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine Art Prints.
Follow me on my St. Francois Mountain Platinum Histograph Heirloom Fine Art Print Project where I am photographing the St. Francois Mountains that were formed by volcanic and intrusive activity 1.5 billion years ago. By comparison, the Appalachians started forming about 460 million years ago, and the Rockies a mere 140 million years ago.
Check out my darkroom and large format training materials (Video Workshops, Quick Reference Cards, eBooks, Guides)
Keywords: analog photography, black and white, clyde butcher, darkroom, film, fine art, ilford, kodak, landscape, large format, nature, photography, slide film
I totally agree with you regarding film photography and darkroom!
I would not trade my darkroom experience for spending tedious hours hunched in front of the computer screen as computer image manipulation is uninspiring for me.
I use photo shop only when digital is requested by my clients, but never for fine art black & white prints.
Greetings from Vancouver Island, Canada
No comments posted.
Get my Free Darkroom Newsletter and never miss new information again.
Top Trending Article This Month: Exploring Divided D-23 Large Format B&W Film Development
Media & News Updates
Support This Blog
Recent PostsBeginning The Testing Process With Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray Film & D-23 Split Bath Dev Get Connected To Nature - It May Save Your Life Getting Geared Up For Some New Floral Still Life Platinum Prints - Part 1 Why Photographing What Matters Unleashes Your Full Creative Potential Smoky Mountains Newfound Gap Photography & Travel Guide Scouting Trip Update For Eden Falls in the Arkansas Ozark's - Part 2 Scouting Fall Color at Eden Falls in the Arkansas Ozark's - Part 1 Darkroom Digest: Stop Baths - Water vs. Acid Darkroom Digest: Understanding Silver Halides for Darkroom Photographers The Value of Continuing to Create - A Photographers Perspective