I recently made a substantial investment in silver. An instructor helped me realize that I’ve spent hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours in the past months with the precious metal. It’s not the type of silver I can wear or use to pay a toll, but after a series of chemical baths my silver gives me a great return.
I recently learned to love the darkroom.
It seems the photography world is shrinking as accessibility expands. A local publication just eliminated its entire photo staff, and now relies on reporters and freelancers for pictures. In an age when anything from a phone to a set of Google eyewear can now capture images and instantly share them, it seems the Chicago Sun-Times no longer appreciates photography.
When I started taking photography classes I didn’t fully appreciate the craft. I didn’t understand why my first photography professor suggested every person take a darkroom class at least once. I came from an age where images were instant and storage was endless. I could set my exposure, get my composition, snap a few frames and repeat the process again and again. Within minutes I could have a hundred shots, one of which I assumed would be useable. I was happy with my progress, but I was ignorantly complacent.
Years after that first class I finally took my instructor’s advice and I now have a better understanding why he suggested it. It’s an intimate, tedious process — a stark contrast to the instant gratification of LCD screens and Photoshop. You sit in complete darkness to handle the canister that contains your vision of the world. You hope you rolled the film correctly and you seal it from light before you can emerge from the expansive shadow. You develop it, wash it, dry it and after all that’s done you can finally see if you captured the moment. I felt more accomplished when I looked at the 36 images on my first roll of film than any feeling I got from filling up an SD card.
My view changed behind the lens of a film camera. Maybe it was because every shot was a mystery so I had to trust my decisions and my skills. Maybe it was because I knew how much work it would take to make a print. Maybe it was because I felt like I was following the steps of the classic Life photographers, such as Robert Capa or Margaret Bourke-White. I saw my shot not as a set of ones and zeros, but as a process that translates my experience during a moment to a sharable, tangible item.
In this world where photography jobs are evaporating, it may seem irrational to step back from technological advancements. But, for me, this step was necessary. I’m still learning, and hope to never stop, and I know others are learning along with me. We are learning how to better appreciate the passion and artistry of professional photographers. This could help salvage the profession for these artists.
The first roll:
The first print:
And everything thereafter: