Friday, August 20, 2010

In the Darkroom

Twice this month I've been able to go into the darkroom at Sertoma Arts Center. I've taken some old square black and white negatives that I found at my dad's house.

It takes about thirty minutes to get set up. My friend Jen has the chemicals ready, but I have to check my enlarger, timer, filter, and lens to make sure they're all working properly and are what I need for the negatives I'm using. There's always some kind of problem. For instance, last night, the enlarger I usually use had some kind of pink light coming down, and we couldn't figure out what was causing it. So I moved one station down. That enlarger had more light openings than I am used to so I had to fiddle with the dial so that I could choose F-stops in the mostly dark room. Then my timer was giving me four seconds for a three-second setting.

Finally I had everything ready to turn out the lights. I went into the lighted room and started looking through the negatives trying to decide which one to start with. I could tell that one of them was of children in their Halloween costumes, so I started with it.

Once you've chosen your negative, you put it in a slide carrier and focus it. Then you do a test print, exposing the paper to the light in three or five second intervals. You develop the test strip to find the best time and setting for the print. All of this takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes. So by the time you actually develop your first print, you've spent around forty-five minutes in the darkroom.

There's nothing quick about the process. Your print takes one minute, one minute, three minutes, and three minutes in four different chemicals. On a good night, like last night, I may get four copies of four negatives.

I know I could just take all the negatives to a film processing place and get prints in a day. But there's something so magic about the darkroom process. In this case, I'm taking negatives from photographs my dad took over fifty years ago. He lined us up in our costumes or with our grandparents and great-grandparents, caught an uncle and baby cousin opening Christmas presents. One of the photographs I did last night is of a one-year-old me, sitting between my great-grandparents. Our love for each other shines through the print.

It is an act of meditation to develop pictures this way. As I said on Facebook last night, "In the darkroom, the past emerges."

No comments: