Sunday musings: inspiration for a dark room, catalyzed by a nice little find at an op-shop

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by kdghantous, Aug 10, 2013.

  1. I've been on and off the idea of having a darkroom for a while. I occasionally have the thought that it's too much trouble, that digital has caught up (technically, if not aesthetically) etc. Despite that, I still have long term plans to at least try having one and seeing how it goes. But something catalyzed those plans recently.
    I was at an op-shop and came across a most wonderful thing: a small, probably 6"x7", framed print of the famous photo of St. Paul's cathedral during the Blitz. I am not sure when it was printed, but I would guess it's pre-1950. Now, this is an optical print, not a machine print, not a digital print.
    This is a real print, probably made from a dupe negative, in a darkroom. Yes, it has imperfections such as dust spots and so on, but it is what I still think of as a proper, real, genuine print. I am not against other technologies. But for me, at least as far as b&w photography is concerned, there is the optical print and then there are imitations.
    If you want to print a b&w neg properly, to give it meaning, the only way to do that is to shine light through a negative onto photographic paper in a darkroom. If I were to buy b&w prints, I'd never buy anything but an optical print. Other people can do what they like, but for me, there is no meaning in a digital print (unless it's cheap).
    Now, let me point out, to forestall any trolling, that most of my photography is colour digital. Black and white has always tempted me, but because I have no darkroom, I don't shoot it. I hope to change that soon, if circumstances permit, starting with basic film development in a daylight tank. (BTW, film cameras are not a problem, I certainly have a few, both 35mm and 120).
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  2. thats a great idea.the good thing about having a BW darkoom is that you dont need an large place to set your darkroom,some people use the bathroom,altough i dont think is a good idea because of the smell but anyway,you are going to love the BW darkroom,i have one myself also a color darkroom either and i usually spend very precious moments there developing my photos,and i believe are you will going to do that too. i always say that optics prints has this glamour,just like that picture of st pauls cathedral,its outstanding. do it and for sure you're going to love it.
     
  3. If you want to print a b&w neg properly, to give it meaning, the only way to do that is to shine light through a negative onto photographic paper in a darkroom.
    This is a meaningless statement. The only way to write a sentence properly, to give it meaning, the only way to do that is to transfer India ink through a quill pen onto parchment paper while sitting at a mahogany desk.
     
  4. The photographer Edward Weston might have said that the only way to give a negative meaning is to contact print it in a simple darkroom. His friend Ansel Adams would have embraced certain aspects of digital photography. He claimed that the halftone printing of his day came very close to his own interpretation of the negative in a sophisticated darkroom.
     
  5. Mike Dixon +1
    Try a sort of Turing test here - can you actually pick out a digital image from a darkroom image when you don't know which is which?
    Here's what Ansel Adams actually had to say about the potential for digital darkrooms:
    I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.

    Ansel Adams, 1983 Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. Little, Brown and Company. p.59
     
  6. BTW, I sympathize with the OP's wish for a darkroom, it's the rationalization that I can't buy.
    The best justification is that you want to.
     
  7. All you can do is to satisfy your itch by trying it. There's no other way.
    Some famous photographers from the past always made their own prints, some had darkroom phases that eventually passed, and some never did. You can't tell by the pictures.
    Personally, although I still have all my darkroom stuff from the 70's and I like to use black and white film (HP5 especially), I just get a nearby lab to develop it for about $7, and I then scan the negatives for my own purposes. It's just not worth the trouble of setting up for a night's printing in my little apartment bathroom, as I used to do in the old days. My thinking is that I have the negative should I decide I want a real photographic print at any time in the future.
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  8. Its easy to develop a negative. You can do that at home. Its also easy to rent a commercial darkroom for a couple of hours. The good thing about doing that is you have the experts there to assist you. Only then will you discover whether its worth shelling out for a full darkroom at home.

    A lot of film pro's scan their negatives to digital...whats called a hybrid process. Multi-function printer/scanners can be had for not much money and most can also run Vuescan if the OEM software is not good enough.
     
  9. Just do it, you won't regret it!!
     
  10. The funniest thing about this particular musing is that the photo that inspired it gained its iconic status from being
    exposed to millions through "meaningless" reproductions in newspapers and magazines. It's the perfect
    counterargument to the claims made in the original post.
     
  11. Meh. It's a sterile argument. If you put two good silver prints side by side, I doubt any of us could tell which one was printed digitally and which one was blown through an enlarger lens.
     
  12. Yes it is a sterile argument to insist that things are different even when they look the same. But only in a world of "looks like" means "same as". And a lot of folks willingly live in such a world where appearance trumps substance. As a humorist put it: they would be happy to order pizza by telephone and have it delivered by television.
    The other side, who insist that "different" is not "the same", that substance and show are both carriers of meaning, have an alternative set of insights and appreciations; and the anxieties that go with them.
     
  13. The only way to write a sentence properly, to give it meaning, the only way to do that is to transfer India ink through a quill pen onto parchment paper while sitting at a mahogany desk​
    ... composing in Archaic Greek. No other language will do.
    can you actually pick out a digital image from a darkroom image when you don't know which is which​
    That isn't my point, although you bring up a worthwhile issue. Even if I could tell the difference, it might be just that: a difference. Superiority doesn't have to come into it. I can sometimes tell a film scan from a purely digital file, even in a small JPEG such as on PN, but sometimes I can't.
    My point is that if you have a negative and want to sell prints, limited editions especially, you're cheating the customer if you print digitally. It's as if BMW were to make its cars in China and charge you the same. You're welcome to it. Good luck, it's all yours.
    BTW, I sympathize with the OP's wish for a darkroom, it's the rationalization that I can't buy.​
    I agree with you, but if anything, most of my rationalizations are about not having a darkroom. That is, I focus too much on 'efficiency', cost, time etc., blah blah.
    Just do it, you won't regret it!!​
    We'll see! :p
    The funniest thing about this particular musing is that the photo that inspired it gained its iconic status from being exposed to millions through "meaningless" reproductions in newspapers and magazines.​
    You have it the wrong way around. Because it was such a great image (aesthetically, symbolically, historically) it became exposed to millions. Why do you suppose the canonical Gospels became canonical while other Gospels didn't, and why are people inspired by them? Because the Church thrust them upon us? No: because they were the best written.
    The other side, who insist that "different" is not "the same", that substance and show are both carriers of meaning, have an alternative set of insights and appreciations; and the anxieties that go with them.​
    Fair enough!
     
  14. There have been a lot of printing technologies over the past 197 years. Generally speaking, the darkroom print is one of the least capable of the printing mediums. One could just as easily say, "it's only real if printed in platinum. Or albumen, or...." Have you seen a gravure print made by Paul Strand? It puts silver to shame. If you like working in your darkroom, by all means do so. However, there's no reason to put anyone else down... or to suggest their work is lesser.
    The idea that all you have to do is press a button on a computer is ridiculous. You can't come back to the same print the next day and expect it to print the same. Certainly not in b&w. The temperature and humidity can be different and the absorption quality of the coating changes. There are differences with each sheet of paper, or from roll to roll. If you can't see the difference you haven't trained your eyes well enough. And the idea that digital printing is easier than darkroom printing is ridiculous.
     
  15. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    <HR>
    <P>Moderator's note: Let's not get into personal attacks. Differences of opinion are fine but belligerent posts are not welcome on this forum just because one doesn't like those opinions. <P>
    <HR>
     
  16. Hi!
    I was doing very serious wet printing for years about thirty years ago. I constantly shot lots and lots to get that one great image (Ansel Adams said that 12 great shots a year are a good harvest indeed) and then I would work on it for six weeks until i had a perfect 24 x 18 inch print.
    Then I moved and I didn't have a darkroom any more and I altogether stopped shooting black and white.
    Buying a Fuji 617 I got into medium format and now I've got a few serious camera's like a Mamiya 7 with 43mm lens, a Mamiya RB etc.
    About two years ago I started thinking about doing black and white again. I bought myself an Epson 750 scanner and started the hybrid route with photoshop.
    It was amazing. All those thousands of hours in the wet darkroom i could put immediately into practice in Photoshop.
    I do now what I always wanted to do, but couldn't using my wet darkroom because I didn't know how: make perfect 4 foot prints.
    I shoot and shoot for a perfect image.
    I develop.
    I scan and play in Photoshop.
    The really good images I get drumscannned at 5.000PPI on a drumscanner. This resolves the detail of the grain.
    I make my image again in Photoshop.
    I get a 500 megabyte TIFF file which I send over the Net to my friend the printer.
    It gets printed on Hahnemuhle Baryta on a special Canon printer with some four or five greyscale inks.
    The print gets mounted on dibond.
    I think digital printing is great, i have an 5'' by 7'' enlarger at home which was given to me, and I'm almost sure I'll never use it.
    With photoshop I can precisely do exactly what I want to my print, without time problems.
    Imagine spotting a four foot size print!
    The Hahnemuhle paper is amazing, the print just glows with the purest whites and the most intense blacks.
    I've learnt everything doing wet printing, but now i have the tool do do what i really want.
    The drawback is that the digital route is fantastically expensive; scanner, computer, etc etc. This four foot printer's ink cartridges alone cost $8,000... A four foot print costs me $ 800.
    I'm a great admirer of Ansel adams and the daring way he printed. I'm getting there, i see how he did it, give me another ten years...
    For those who are interested in my work:
    dirkdom.zenfolio.com , the black and white. Not many yet, because good shots are rare indeed...
    Dirk.
     
  17. <p> Photographer's Note: Who gives a flying fish what anyone says, you are following your heart and when you stay true to it, often times the way you treat others and especially the way you treat your self is much improved....and often, so is your creative output. I have gone almost totally back to shooting black and white film and printing it in a real darkroom, not a Lightroom where I can order a book on Amazon, watch a Youtube video and play with pixels with computer software. I am not alone either, I get more and more people every day asking where did all the darkrooms go in our *highly* art driven valley. I am making better prints in the darkroom than I can in the Lightroom because I like it a LOT better, so yes, for me, prints from my darkroom ARE better, period. <br /> Do this for your self, no other reason....to hell with everyone else.<br />
     
  18. Daniel, thanks for the positive words. I won't say you're wrong and your last sentence is certainly 100% true. But I do care what people have to say, as long as it helps me enjoy my photography more and helps me become better at what I do.
    Some people have an unhealthy obsession about wanting to see film companies fail. I mean, I don't mind people's preferences but film is not a bad thing. I can't see why one would want film manufacturers to collapse. It's almost - vaguely - like people wanting Apple to fail. That disease is still around but thankfully not as virulent as it once was.
    And some people either don't read what you wrote or read into it what they want you to say. It's a shame but... what are you going to do?
    I may (or may not) do as you did and shoot exclusively b&w, at least as far as film goes. The absence of colour certainly adds depth to the image. Yes, I could shoot colour and convert... but I don't want a colour original that can be hypothetically brought to light to "add life" to my b&w version. You want to see colour in my b&w photo? Add it yourself.
     

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