During the last couple of months I have gathered everything necessary to set up a small darkroom in my new house. Let me share my approach and thoughts about darkroom printing. What I will not tell you, though, is how many times you should shake your developing tank or how to make contact sheets, and there won’t be a guide to exposure test strips. There are dozens of websites and blogs that describe in detail how to develop film and enlarge prints in your own little home darkroom. You will find all that technical information and more there.
Back in Japan I had a darkroom I could use – but it was located inconveniently and equipped poorly. The best I could do was what I would optimistically describe as “experimental” prints. That is cool with me, though, and my Lifelines series is one of the results (e.g. the hand picture above). Same as with film photography (which, believe it or not, is dead), my approach to darkroom printing is a very private one. Unlike photographs I take on my digital camera or iPhone, which inevitably end up on my website, Ello, Instagram or facebook for everyone to be scrutinized (or worse: ignored), no-one sees my film photographs or my darkroom prints. That is, until much later – maybe. I don’t think about sharing the photos while taking or printing them. This way, it is like a personal journal in which you write without intention of showing it to anyone. It frees me up, and takes the pressure of being judged off my shoulders. Even if I don’t really feel the pressure, well, it is still kind of there.
Now, does this mean I won’t show the occasional print that I like? No. However, the many physical barriers from taking a photograph to developing the film to printing it in the darkroom to digitizing it and putting it out there automatically creates quite a comfortable distance between making my photos – and showing the photos. This distance also means time: time to physically spend with what I created. During this time I sometimes start getting bored with what I thought originally to be a good photograph. Or, on the contrary, something I had not noticed before becomes clear and interesting upon looking a second and third time. The accidents that happen when working freely in the darkroom, such as wrong exposures or screwed up dodging and burning play a big role in that. There is an inherent unpredictability which I embrace (and which technical perfectionists of course try to eliminate by keeping strict temperature and workflow protocols – the “correct” way of doing it, really).
In any case, this is a very different and much more messy experience than taking a photograph digitally, uploading it with a click of your mouse and being done with it.
Does darkroom work make you a better photographer?
No. Most photographs I shoot and print “the old way” are just as bad as my others. Shooting film does make me a lot poorer, but it does not make me become a better photographer. It is just a different medium. Just another medium to take the same old photos on. If anything, digital is the way to go if what you want is to improve as a photographer, because you can truly focus on the photograph itself. Film costs, developing costs, paper costs, time you have to invest to print – these all are no limitations in digital. I recommend getting an inkjet printer and printing your photographs: being able to do it with one click makes you look at the photograph itself, and no laborious process clouds your judgement (324626 hours spent in Photoshop not counting). We tend to attach more value to things that we have invested lots of time and money in, for that reason alone. Don’t forget that others will not see that time and money, only whether they are looking at a good photograph or not.
That being said, there is something about the way of working in the darkroom – the physicality of the process and the fact that you are forced to slow down – that beautifully balances out my way of working digitally. And it is just a lot more satisfying to print with light and chemicals.
If – on rare occasion – I do manage to pull a silver gelatin print that I like out of the chemistry, then I’m all the happier. Because I did not just have to press a button to get an inkjet print in endless copies, but actually had to use my hands. (And the shadow tones are just so beautiful).
Even if others don’t appreciate it, it makes me feel good. And don’t you agree that this is reason enough for me to continue locking myself into this crammed and tiny, dark room?
Finally, a few words about the set-up of my little darkroom.
This is what it looks like:
Basically, everything is crammed into my tiny bathroom, which luckily does not have any windows (and unfortunately no working ventilation either). I stack the chemical trays on a plastic shelf in the shower – can’t stress how great that setup is, because it does not matter if I spill anything and in the end I simply hose everything down.
The heart of my darkroom is a Durst M605 enlarger with Rodenstock Rodagon 80mm and one of Schneider-Kreuznach’s 50mm lenses (not the expensive one).
Lastly, developing black and white film looks like in this picture below. My developer of choice is HC-110 because of its shelf life, bang for the buck and because it is easier and healthier to dilute liquids than powders.
And that’s it. More than sufficient to be independent when it comes to black and white film photography and printing/enlarging. If you have any questions, feel free to write me a message or a comment right here.
Two weeks ago I ran into trouble: A very experienced and successful photographer asked me to send him my 50 best photographs by the morning of the following day. Not 10 good photographs, but my 50 best photographs. Now, I would already be a very happy man if I had even 50 good photographs… and besides, I have been shooting a lot of different things over the past 10 years, how could I possibly make a good selection without any restriction other than “best”? Worse yet: I only had half a day to make the selection.
Needless to say it was a long night. When it was already getting bright outside, I was exhausted, sleepy, tired. I wasn’t satisfied with my selection. Once again I realized there’s so much more work to do, so many photos I didn’t take yet, but have to. And it was really hard to decide which ones to keep and which ones to delete. I decided to let it be, sent the 50 photos in, and went to bed in a rather ill mood.
This is the selection I came up with, my 50 best photographs as of July 2014: holgerferoudj.com/album/50-best-photographs/
Show me YOUR 50 best photographs!
I am asking you now to do the same. I am challenging you: Which photographs would you choose if you had to send me your 50 best photographs by tomorrow morning? I promise, it is going to be an eye opening experience. One that is worth it.
(e.g. share it on your website, flickr, some other social media thing where you can share albums, dropbox, etc!)
This is an excerpt taken from my last LETTER – my monthly newsletter about visual arts, photography and Japan. If you’ve already subscribed to it you’ll know this, but still feel free to discuss in the comments 🙂
Did you ever think about what the difference between Art and Craft is? Can craft be art? Does art require craft? And where does photography fit into this? I’ve been thinking about that after listening to a conversation on On Taking Pictures that contained more thoughts than fit easily into my brain. I’m rather slow at “getting” things.
Emotion – one key element?
Photography arguably is a craft, as in you have to use the camera’s settings skilfully to get a decent picture. But then, it also isn’t because many cameras allow you to merely press a button to get a picture, and I don’t see any craft in that. One can carefully craft a picture by taking all the settings in their own hands, and by crafting the composition etc. – or, on the other hand, one can come up with a wonderful photograph with a point and shoot camera, without crafting anything. And we’re not even including printing in the discussion here.
So, what is the difference between craft and art? Both, a well-crafted as well as a point-and-shoot’ed photograph, can be art, and both can not be art. A well crafted photograph, tack-sharp, perfectly exposed and composed, maybe using the latest gear, but that I still would never consider “art” is what I see more as a rule than an exception these days. It satisfies gear affectionados, but doesn’t really stir any emotions. “Emotion” – one key element of art?
Another element I thought important for some time might be “intent,” “vision,” or some kind of concept: “What do you want to say?”
But then, I know many renowned art photographers – especially Japanese – just shoot and do that thinking/intentional part much later. And many others come up with meticulously planned concepts for a photograph and go through greatest efforts to produce an image that often seems way too planned out, way too conceptional, and rather tedious.
And then there are big artists like Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata, who is very conscious about wanting to eliminate every single bit of consciousness when creating his photographs, numbs all thinking with drugs, gives his middle finger to all technical aspects of photography and acts from a very primal, unconscious place.
Antoine’s exhibition is on in Tokyo right now, by the way, and I admit that if I hadn’t kind of “befriended” him over the course of the last year, and as a consequence hadn’t learnt about his backstory as well as hear him talk about his work, I would have easily disregarded his photography as artsy-fartsy merely controversial “stuff” without much to it. I still don’t get my head around his photographs, but I know now that I don’t have to – and that they aren’t digested easily, but instead encapsulate something rooted very deeply.
Being called an “artist”
So, you see, I still can’t get my head around this whole arts thingy, and that is probably also the reason why I feel very uncomfortable with people calling me an artist – which sometimes happens – God knows why – and which always makes me feel pretty phoney.
Being called a craftsman is nice, because it implies you do something very well. What does being called an artist imply?
Tell me, will I ever have to understand all that artsy stuff to be able to create something that can be called “art” by someone some time and NOT make me feel pretentious? I guess you’ll only know after the act. Or what do you think?
Addition (July 3rd): Beautiful follow-up/write-up on this ongoing conversation by Kristopher Matheson. Well, I think we arrived more or less at the conclusion that it does not matter what is art when making your works, but that conclusion comes with a big chunk of content hiding under the surface, iceberg like.
You hopefully haven’t noticed, but I am very productive these days. Because I share less. I went down the black hole and came back.
Let me elaborate just a tiny bit.
Every week I introduce several artists that inspire me on inspired by 7188, my visual diary on tumblr. This blog post is a distillation of the good stuff.
This month is a bit different than the other parts of my monthly “inspired in…” series, because this is going to be all about composition and visual elements that make a photograph.
Now, I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been learning more about some definable elements in photographs these days, which is actually more fun than I would’ve thought! So far I never really had the vocabulary to describe a photograph and to see how certain elements and colors evoke certain emotions in the viewer – all I had so far were the emotions when viewing a photograph, and I was – and still am, for the most part – fine with that, because I’m used to act on my intuition.
Nevertheless, this month I’ve been looking more into composition, lines, shapes, colors, texture and what they do, and very simply summarized my findings on inspired by 7188 together with a photo each to illustrate the element in question. Here, I will summarize all of that even more to give you a nice little overview. Needless to say, if you want to know more about one thing or the other, you might want to check out the more detailed descriptions on tumblr, or just write a comment under this post and let’s have a conversation about it.
The main elements I want to make you aware of are shapes, lines, color and texture.
Today in part 1 I am going to write about shapes and lines, and later this week in part 2 about color and texture. Let’s start with shapes:
Every week I introduce several artists that inspire me on my visual diary on tumblr, inspired by 7188. This blog post is a distillation of all the good stuff.
In last month’s issue many non-photographers caught my attention for no particular reason. This month, the focus is more on photography again, although behind the scenes I have had a lot of input from painters, illustrators and other artists in July. Who knows, eventually some of them might find their way here.
To see more works of each artist, check inspired by 7188 for my personal preferences, or check the artist’s pages directly.
Irenaeus Herok caught my attention with his series “Bondi Haze” – with scenes that could be happy summer sunshine scenes, but covered with haze and shot from an unusual angle. Be sure to check the other shots in this series.
Andreas Poupoutsis is one of the big discoveries this month. His portraits are super creative and visually as well as emotionally pleasing like (insert any cheesy metaphor you can think of). Taken from his website:
Andreas Poupoutsis is a Cypriot Conceptual Photographer/ Graphic Designer based in New York. His photography explores graphic shapes / elements as well as odd and mysterious portraiture.
Harry Cory Wright
Harry Cory Wright, landscape photographer (and a pretty interesting one at that), brought out a photobook called “Hey Charlie”. In it he works quite a bit with smoke and pyrotechnics (not what you would usually associate with landscape photography, would you?) and one of the photographs is the one here. No idea what you think, but I love it.
Akif Hakan Celebi
Akif Hakan Celebi uses colors very much to my taste and series like his Bloomwood one, where this photograph is from, have something to them that makes me look at them for longer than usual. And no, not only the colors… maybe it’s the model, facing the camera straight on, staring at me. Haunting. Love it.
Akif Hakan is an American photographer of Turkish origin. He is currently based in Hong Kong, Istanbul and London.
Last but definitely not least, let me introduce to you: Jon DeBoer. Fascinating light/shadow plays, interesting angles. Not exactly sure if this can even be called street photography, but whatever drawer you want to put it in, it’s very much to my taste. Much recommended.
Hope you enjoyed these artists as much as I did. If you did, consider sharing the goodness. Until next month!