What’s in a Darkroom Print?

Few people realize the amount of work that goes into getting a darkroom print. During our darkroom photography classes at Truman College in Chicago, we go through it all. After you’ve shot your film, we need to develop it. A contact print normally follows, where the film strip will give you a preview of your images.

Someone once said your worst images are your first 10,000. Imagine shooting 10,000 images in film! That is over 410 rolls of 24 exposure film! Or over 830 rolls if you’re shooting medium format.

Back to the basics: contrary to today’s digital photography mantra of ‘spray and pray’, shooting film, economically speaking, forces you to shoot less. And that’s a good thing. It forces you to be mindful. To pay attention. To be in the moment and use your powers of observation. It isn’t just an image that you want to create, but also the technical journey with your camera that you need to follow in order to make it happen.

This image is one of those observations of mindfulness. Shot in medium format, a cactus was shot first at the Garfield Chicago Botanical Conservatory. It was exposed at half the metered exposure, and then the papaya leaf was shot. The camera used was a Mamiya c220, which allows two exposures shot on the same frame of the film. The film was Ilford HP5 at 400 ISO.

The negative was then developed and printed in the darkroom. This image might not speak to many people, given the bombardment of digital photography images these days. But to those who know film, it speaks of one element that was the result of paying attention by my student. It speaks to mindfulness.

Next time someone asks ‘What’s in a print?’, I can assure you… if it came from the darkroom, SO many things had to go right for it to come to life.  Or perhaps it was a result of many mistakes, and among so many things going wrong, eventually one thing had to go right. And that thing that goes right happens when we practice mindfulness.

Find out more about my darkroom classes by contacting Truman’s Continuing Education adviser Laura Smith at 773-907-4440