Reflections About my Future as a Large Format Darkroom Photographer and Next Steps
In a recent article, I shared my thoughts about how I think the incredible options and variables we are afforded today as photographers are distracting us and keeping us from reaching our full potential as creative beings.
As I continue to build my new and much smaller darkroom, I ponder and think about my creative options moving forward. I can't exactly put my finger on why this time feels incredibly important, but it is something that I feel deep in my gut. It is time to simplify and to focus.
First, it is important to note that my new darkroom is totally off the grid. This means no running water by the local municipality or electricity. I have to create my own electricity and source my water. I feel these self-imposed limitations are actually a blessing.
I made the personal decision to downsize my life and remove as much burden and financial pressure that I could in order to live a much fuller and richer life that is focused on the things that I value most. Darkroom photography is like oxygen to me and I can't imagine a life without it. If I am working for others all the time making money to pay for "life", how would I ever have time to pursue and reach my full creative potential? The short answer to that rhetorical question is that I would not have access to the opportunities that I am seeking, and I would eventually run out of time. We are mortal beings with inherent vulnerabilities and time is one element that has a finite value.
As I continue in my journey in slowing down, I am noticing how unnecessarily busy so many people are around me. I am able to identify these things because I was one of them for many years. Have you noticed when you are in the company of some people, they feel the need or pressure to talk or continually fiddle with their phones or other similar technology? Why can't we be still, be quiet, and just be present in the moment without having to react to something? I suspect this reveals a lot about my love of nature and landscape photography versus other genres that involve people! These observations about myself are helping guide and ultimately free me in my creative pursuits.
I realized the only pressure I have creatively is the pressure that I place on myself. In my new mindset, I don't care if it takes me three months to create a single print. Just by simply slowing down in my personal life and doing less, I am able to grasp these concepts and evolve to a new place creatively. I share these thoughts with you because I was completely and totally unaware how unnecessarily busy I was in the past. I wished I had read this article decades ago, so I am hopeful that it will awaken something in you.
When I talk to people about the process of using a large format camera and all that it involves, most people say something like "why would you go to all that trouble when we have much better digital cameras now?". My initial reply usually goes something like this..."I wasn't aware that digital cameras were better than other forms of photography...".
I was recently out hiking in the wilderness with my 8x10 view camera with my son. We had just got everything set up and we were waiting for the light. A middle-aged man came up the trail and stopped and talked to us. After we exchanged greetings he was fascinated by my camera. His question to me was more fascinating than I was to him I think. He said "so... does that camera take as good as pictures as the ones I can buy at Walmart?". I was speechless and after I mumbled a few words in astonishment I said, "well, this camera uses a piece of film the size of copy paper and the quality and detail that I can create is beyond the capabilities of cameras from Walmart...". I wanted to try and explain more, but I realized it was better to smile and let the gentlemen return to his hike and for me to get back to my work. As he walked away, he stopped and said, "I didn't know they still sold film". I smiled and wished the man a good day.
As I am entering into the internal buildout of the darkroom and workspace, I am forced to make several decisions that will impact my future work. I am primarily focused on making sure that I have enough workspace to do my 8x10 and 11x14 contact printing as a first priority and also process my films in my Jobo system. I also want to take this opportunity to get organized and clear out some things that should have probably been cleaned up many years ago. I figure I better do this now before the estate sale one day when all my life's work is sold for a dollar and my negatives are sold on eBay for pennies by jackasses that have no idea what they are looking at...
My work for the rest of this year will most likely involve contact printing, direct positive prints, and a couple of alternative processes. I will be using large format sheet film, x-ray film, paper negatives, and if time permits, coating my own glass plates with my own hand-made silver gelatin emulsion. My silver gelatin contact prints will be very simple and created using a basic light source and multi-grade filters using the split-grade method. I use both incandescent and LED lights successfully, but in the new darkroom, my plan is to use LED lights. Since the printing process is so simple, I am able to print in the field inside my van too, which is wonderful for long trips away from the darkroom. I have a small dark box that I created from cardboard and thin plywood that doubles as a darkroom and printing system.
If time permits, I want to create some Bromoil, Lith and Gumoil prints. For the Bromoil and Lith prints, I can use the standard darkroom contact prints from my 8x10 and 11x14 negatives, and for Gumoil I need a positive. To get the positive, I need to either employ a reversal process on my negative film or create an interpositive.
I am using eco-friendly chemicals for my black and white work so disposal for this is straight-forward. I am still in the process of researching options for other chemicals that need proper disposal. I will be writing an article on this topic in the near future once I have a full solution.
I am getting much closer to getting the darkroom operational, so I will provide more updates soon.
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