The magic of the darkroom

It is a well-known fact that anything creative that can be done, can be done with a Mac (or Windows, at a push). Recording a symphony? You got it. Designing your Christmas cards? Absolutely. Laying up the Arts Section of VENUE? It’s taken me months of practice, but just about, yes.

There are some things that just cannot be replicated in the cold and clinical space of a Mac Suite though, and the magic of the darkroom is one of them. There is something incredibly exciting about taking your film camera out with you and getting that shot, but not knowing exactly how it will turn out. In a world of instant gratification, having to wait to develop your pictures is a little bit like having to wait to open your presents on Christmas morning: incredibly exciting and that little bit more magical.

Due to the process involved, usual darkroom photography has a little more of an organic edge. Contrast and brightness are  less easily manipulated than on Photoshop, which is ideal for someone like me with a bit of a slap-dash approach to making art. Some of my favourite images that I have created have been happy accidents. Working in the dark room, I felt I didn’t always need a clear idea of how my final images would look; trial and error is a big part of the fun.

A darkroom is, rather  unfortunately, far harder and more expensive to come by than a decent digital camera. Photography paper, film cameras and all the chemicals that dark room photography involves can all be costly. Don’t let that put you off if you ever have a chance to use one. I rarely have the chance to get in the dark room but I have a big stack of film ready to develop for when I do; once you get the hang of it’s not hard to develop your images quickly.

Pinhole cameras can be an interesting alternative to a film camera. All you need is an object that doesn’t let any light in, for example a shoe box, or even a wardrobe, and light-sensitive photography paper. The pinhole camera works when the paper is placed inside the box, and is then flooded with light over time through the tiny ‘pinhole’. These cameras can provide the most interesting results as they are often unpredictable: moving objects, changes in light, and any movement of the camera itself are all variables in how your developed image will look.

While, of course, digital cameras, Photoshop, and precision editing all have their place in the art world, the very particular mystic and magic of darkroom photography should not be forgotten.


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March 2021
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