Thursday, December 30, 2010

There is a red light that never goes out

Let's end this year on a nostalgic note, with Richard Nicholson's Last One Out, a typology of the few remaining professional darkrooms in London.

Sean O'Hagan points out on The Guardian that "perhaps the world is simply too fast-forward now for the craft and the clutter – the roll of film, the negative, the chemicals, the contact sheet – of old-fashioned photographic printing. Perhaps, too, the darkroom and photographic film will go the way of the analogue recording studio, the cassette player and the vinyl record and become beloved by a relatively small group of obsessives".

Other examples of photographic obituaries of the analog art are Michel Campeau's Darkroom and Robert Burley's The disappearance of Darkness.

It's something that has been said many times over the last years, and maybe this is already happening, analog printing is already a niche, small but somehow healthy: it's not a big business, not a widespread profession, but something where craft, meditation, fun or whatever else somebody might feel inside when, full of excitement, turns off the light in a basement and start messing around with easels and trays.

I've always had mixed feelings for elegiac photoworks about the diappearance of analog photography, I think that the beauty of it is in its results and there is not much that can come out by turning it into a vintage visual object in itself.

Now it's all computers everybody says, and maybe one difference with the darkroom is that those analog tools from back then made sense only when able hands could take something out of them, while today's devices and techniques often seem to turn into instant cult objects or fetishes, no matter what the real use or outcome that can be achieved with them.

On this topic, I suggest to read my interview with b&w fine art printer Jim Megargee.

So, paradoxically we celebrate objects from a supposed distant era as lost glories, but today's objects are probably even bigger fetishes, and are constantly replaced by new ones. Objects are losing endurance these days, and a technological device doesn't seem to age with the grace of something made of steel and springs.

So I guess a new year's resolution could be stopping mourning about analog photography, and maybe start looking in what it is actually becoming. Rather than another sad story about how all is getting digital and cold, I'd rather hear about how some people happily keep using the darkroom, what they get from it, why they keep doing it, and so forth.

I'll be happy to receive darkroom stories by all of you out there.

Happy 2011 to everybody!

UPDATE: as soon as I've put this post online, I've found a story on the New York Times that I thought I should include: For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas.

All images taken from Last One Out © Richard Nicholson

1 comment:

JG said...

As you noted, life concentrates more and more around soulless metal cubes with mysterious innards, attached to keyboards and monitors.

Not so long ago painters used easels and canvases and brushes, writers used pens, printers used lead letters stringed together, designers used to draw and model in clay, etc. Photography is going the same way. The distance between maker and product grows, the fisical relationship dissapears, the object that mediates in the process is not exactly "transparent"

I do not like the word analog, don't think it is appropriate, I prefer photochemical. It's going away, and all its magic with it. Digital photography is just another job you do on a computer. The result may be interesting, the process isn't.

I still shoot b&w, develop and print.It makes me as happy today as the first time I saw the image appear on a sheet of white paper. I hope photochemical photography survives. I am sure it will stay with us, it will find its niche,as etching did, for instance, but I hope it will remain a practical proposition for an amateur.

Happy 2011!