The Other Reality

Re-entering the Womb

Posted in MFA, Studio Work by aryckman on November 3, 2008

My first photography class ever, or rather my first photography class for credit was taught by Gerry at Cuyahoga Community College. She loved the darkroom and it was contagious. Gerry said that it was the best place because it was like re-entering the womb. It was dark and warm and comfortable and the constant running water was soothing. That idea of the darkroom being safe and comfortable as a womb has stuck with me. I have always enjoyed working in the darkroom even when everything goes wrong. Once I spent over 24 hours preparing ceramic tiles with liquid emulsion and when it came time to expose them nothing came out.  They were completely blank (or completely black… I don’t remember at this point but it doesn’t matter. The point is all that prep time was a waste because it amounted to nothing), but I was ok with it. Even though that was a huge disappointment it didn’t stop me from starting from scratch the next day. I’m not sure why that is…

Maybe its because the darkroom is a place where mistakes can be made and you can learn from them.  Maybe I feel that there is more to be learned in a darkroom than on a computer because the results are more “real.”  With the computer if you don’t like something you can change it and start again. Of course, there are those digital tragedies when something is erased forever or saved over. But the darkroom always gives you a very specific experience with a very specific result and if you don’t like it you can analyze it, figure out what happened and why and then start again with the new knowledge. And don’t discount the happy accidents.

“Happy accident” is a bad phrase; it is a good phrase to describe that something pleasing can come out of something bad but it doesn’t do justice to the chemical magic that can happen. Rarely do you have mysterious but magical and completely impossible to understand events while editing digital images. I hardly ever wonder how something happened, I can usually go back through my actions and see how I got to the final image.  In the darkroom sometimes things happen for unknown reasons and there is something amazing and beautiful about letting the material inserts its will on your work. Knowing that you cannot control every aspect of the process.

I’m beginning to sound religious talking about the higher power of the darkroom.

I guess I started thinking about this because I have had to set up my own darkroom at home. It’s not much to look at and is hardly big enough to move around in but it does the job. The darkroom is the downstairs, half-bathroom.  It is inconvenient. The toilet leaks into a mason jar on the floor that I have to empty several times daily.  I have to remove everything from the counters to make space for my collodion set up. The retro hanging light fixtures get in the way.  My red light swings precariously each time I open the door because the cord runs along the top and side of the door and then underneath it to a socket that is actually outside of the bathroom. But its welcoming. It smells great. It is therapeutic and I need it.

These are a little less than uninspired photos but I hope it conveys a sense of the space (it even converts into my varnishing room).  Maybe you have to be there to appreciate it…

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. vanja. said, on November 3, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    i think the great thing about the darkroom as well as film is that you have something tangible in your hands to work with and the result is something tangible. I definitely agree with the ‘magic’ that happens in the darkroom that ends up turning your work into amazing things that could never be done digitally.

    how you do control the water temp in there?

  2. Trurl said, on November 4, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    It totally is magic! I’ve long considered working in the darkroom as a form of alchemy. Except, instead of turning lead into gold, you take blank sheets of paper (or purpley, if you’re working in color) and transmute them into work of art! (Actually, alchemists played with silver salts back in the day.)

    And serendipity is a big part of that magic and isn’t available in digital imaging. I’ve often joked about “making it perfect,” about the tendency for people, working digitally, to adjust and tweak every little detail and setting to bejesus and back (I’ve done this myself, even) and that’s just not something you can do in the darkroom.

    Oh, and I love how you turned that CD rack into a rack for you plates!

  3. Roderick said, on November 11, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I will play the opposition role. : )

    I work digitally most of the time, though I do occasionally make a sojourn back into the womb as well.

    I feel that working digitally allows me to spend that explorative time with the camera instead of with the print. I guess I am in opposition to Ansel Adams’ assertion that the negative is the score and the print is the symphony. I see the symphony in the inital creation of the image.

    Now, that being said, I use all this expensive equipment to shoot and print and then use another expensive piece of software to make it look less polished. : ) Maybe that’s where the serendipity comes from for me. I use a film emulator and sometimes “burn” in the edges to simulate an almost holga-like image. This “style” that I am using for my current project came about almost by accident as I was exploring different types of film emulators, and accidentally setting a layer mode wrong. But, for me, the serendipity usually happens in working with different subjects and compositions, finding different symbolism and connections within a body of work and then readdressing those ideas.

    I personally think that both ways of working have their advantages and disadvantages and I love the fact that so many people work in so many different ways. It keeps things interesting and keeps an important dialogue happening. But, in order for that dialogue to be productive, I think it’s important to accept the other perspective. It may not be what works for you, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. Whatever method bears forth the work that challenges us or inspires us, in both our own work and that of others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: