I finally have the darkroom up and running! Over the next month or so, I hope to be offering more and more of my darkroom prints to the public.
I have posted a scan of a print I recently made titled "Daisy 1." Please check out the gallery of my prints and leave feedback if you like what you see.
What's so special about these prints?
Well, I'll start by saying that I like the process behind these prints and the traditional feel of it. It feels a lot more involved than sitting in a normal room at a computer, clicking stuff to see if I like it.
These prints are traditional, silver gelatin, fiber based darkroom prints. That means that I use film, the paper they are printed on has bits of silver suspended in a type of flexible gelatin that is coated on a fiber based paper. The paper is more like actual paper than the plastic, or resin-coated, paper your color prints are/were normally made on. The paper used is sensitive to all light except very dim amber/red light, which is what you might imagine when somebody mentions a darkroom.
Similar to how film is exposed to light and forms a negative image, the paper forms a negative image of the negative, thus forming a positive image. As with film, this image doesn't appear immediately. It must be processed in different chemicals before the image shows up and is made permanent. Some of the chemistry is actually very similar to vinegar, though a bit stronger. Selenium toner is another chemical bath my prints are exposed to in order to give them a little more permanence. As it is, these prints should last a very long time.
A traditional fiber base print seems to actually have the image IN the paper and not just on top. It is the true photographic artist's medium.
What's more, I have taken to photographing with large format film instead of just 35mm. That means my film is the size of most people's prints. There's a ton of detail in each piece of film waiting to hit the paper. While film can't really be measured with megapixels like digital can, sources say there is enough detail in the film that a high quality scan can yield over 100 megapixels of information. Personally, I tend to use 320 ISO film and "Rodinal" developer to develop my film. Both of which can increase the appearance of grain in uniform sections on the print. The sharpness and detail is still pretty astounding.
As of right now, I am only printing up to 8x10 and matting them. In the future, I hope to go up to 16x20. If you have a special request and would like to order a print larger than 8x10 up to 16x20, let me know and we can see what can be done. I'm excited for the day I can print at 16x20 though, because I should still have an abundance of detail.
Why black and white?
It's a bit of an abstraction from reality. We like to see color. A beautiful sunset looks amazing but I don't often photograph sunsets. When I do, I'll use digital to get the color. So many subjects work well with black and white. The lack of color helps the texture come across as one of the main features. You can almost feel the softness of a flower petal. You can tell the rocks on the banks of a lake are rough. It really helps you see where the light is hitting and where the shadows are cast.
Part of the sad truth is that it's harder to do certain film methods the old fashioned way. I picked up my black and white enlarger for about $50 while a new model would run me over $2000. The developing trays are fairly inexpensive, but everything that it would take to print in color, plus the hazardous chemistry disposal, would be too much for me right now. You can't even print directly from slide film anymore without first converting to digital. It's just easier to get set up to print black and white in a darkroom.
I have made many photographs over the last 10 years. Many of the color photos looked flat unless the lighting was perfect. I would remove the color, and there would be so much more to look at. Where before you noticed the colors (vivid or muted), now you notice the contrast between the ground and the sky, the sharpness created by the light and dark on the ground. Each image almost became a memory rather than just a representation of something.
One last thought
Why I print the way I do is best summed up by Clyde Butcher, noted black and white Everglades-based photographer:
"People ask me, 'Why are we doing this. Why can't we just use digital and inkjet?' If you're going to do a piece of art why don't we do it right? That's my theory...well, this is the true artisan's way of doing it."
To place your order...
First, please check out some of the photos I have available.
I have placed a link in the caption for each photograph that will lead you to an order form. Prints will be available framed or unframed, but they will always be mounted and matted. They will usually be a standard size so that frames shouldn't be hard to find.