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…