As I've become more involved with film photography over recent years I've come to appreciate and value working with a tengible substance - a film negative. I find the challenge of working with a physical substance requires a different thought process and approach than working on digital there's the lack of an immediate opportunity to see if you got 'it' so you need to be more careful about your lighting and compostion but also I can't just hit delete and start again like I can with digital not only does this slow my creative process down it makes me much more intentional when I do (eventually) press the shutter button.
So if you're such a big fan of actual factual 'things' then why the flipping heck don't you print more of your work I hear you cry! great question!! I am the first to admit that I don't print enough of my photographic work - film or digital! In fact I hardly print any of it! In this digital age the vast majority of photographs I've shot in either format are just floating around on the web somewhere or hidden away on hard drives or filed away in actual files in the case of negatives - probably never to see the light of day! Worse than that, in the case of my digital files - if I wait too long they might NEVER see the light of day.
Have you tried extracting files off a zip drive lately? what about a floppy disk?remember them? Where is technology going to be in 5 or 10 years time? Who knows what kind of electronic storage devices we'll all be using in the future and even if I can access them, data routinely gets corrupted and is lost for all time. But a 35mm negative is here with us in the real world! A different proposition entirely! My interest in film photography as tangible 'thing' is a combination of the challenge of working with a finitie, physical substance and there are literally physical limits to how far I can push this physical 'thing' to achieve my creative intentions (this is a good erm 'thing' - note to self, stop saying thing now)
OK so we get it, negatives are physical things (aaargh) and this is interesting to you, but then you just scan them into the computer so....what's that all about? Exactly my point!! A film negative is a finished article in waiting - it's a halfway point a pre-photograph, these days most people digitise their negatives to complete them but then we're back in the realm of electronic ephemera again, originally the negative was a halfway point on it's journey to becoming a photographic print and I want some of my film negatives to finally reach that destination!
I've been wanting to learn how to make proper darkroom prints of my work for aaaages and a recent BIG birthday presented the perfect opportunity to do so (thanks mom)! I found a course being run by Dave Butcher a master printer who worked for Ilford and was trained by them in darkroom printing techniques, Dave is also a professional photographer too and his work is A-mazing! You can check out Dave's work here http://www.davebutcher.co.uk and also the oodles of resources and guides on darkroom printing he has created too by visiting http://www.darkroomdave.com if you are so inclined then I can heartily recommend Dave's Darkroom workshop, it was an awesome experience! I would like to say a huge thank you to Dave and his wife Jan for making feel so welcome during the course, it was fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough! :)
I won't try to explain the finder details of how to use a darkroom becasue a: there are a few steps involved and b: there are load of resources out there that explain the basic steps including Dave's websites linked above - suffice it to say that I spent the day at Dave's house being shown how to use all of the darkroom kit and process invovled to create black and white prints of my negatives - I took a selection of some of my fav images and I was away!! The process itself is remarkably straight forward although there is a significant amount of kit and caboodle required to enable all this - Dave is a fantastic teacher and it was great to be able to learn from someone with such a depth of knowledge on the subject, of course I am only scratching the surface and just at the beginning of this journey, what I discovered is that with the right kit, some knowledge and a bit of practice you can make decent prints and be happy - but then spend an entire lifetime learning how to make GREAT prints!!
I was over the moon to leave my first day in the darkroom with these prints to show for it! the detail, sharpness and tone of images that until now I had only viewed on a screen blew me away - I chose a selection of travel, street and architectural images along with a couple of shots of my little boy (had to be done) it was difficult to choose a small selection! but what now? surely you need a load of kit and space to set this kind of thing up right? well - yes, but not as much as you'd think and fortunately I was very lucky to have been given a complete set of darkroom equipment a few years ago which has been patiently waiting in the loft for just this very occasion!!
So here it is! my very own darkroom enlarger which i got along with a box full of bits and bobs that actually make sense to me now I've been on the course - before which I was really not sure what I was looking at TBH!
So there we have it - a thouroughly enjoyable experience! I am intrigued at how different our experience of photographic prints is to viewing images digitally on a screen - ever been round to someones house and they get the family photo album out? how does that compare to viewing some images on a screen? no value judgements here (ok well maybe some) but it's just different isn't it? our emotional response is different it's a tactical, tangible physical experience - we respond, relate and react differently to it as a medium - and this is fascinating to me, why haven't I been printing my photos more you ask, well that's about to change - big time!