Get Out Of the “Dark” About Darkroom Photography

Traditional film and darkroom processes have been undeniably dying out over the past several decades with the invention of the digital camera. The new generation of photographers is following an interesting trend, though, with a sudden enthusiasm for the film medium. It’s a craze led by the likes of Gucci muse Petra Collins that can be compared to the record player: trend in music, people seem to believe that film is more “raw,” “real,” and creative.

Sheets of rolls of film.

Last class, when had my second experience with traditional black and white manual photography, I worked on developing film. If you aren’t familiar with this, there’s an entire process including working in the darkroom, that allows photos that are taken on a roll of film to be accessed. The whole process of development is multilayered and can be stressful for a beginner, especially in the darkrooms; a pitch-black environment that is essential for the photos to not be ruined because they are light-sensitive materials. After processing the roll of film, it is soaked in chemical baths and left to dry. This process allows you to access only 36 photos that one cannot see until the end, meaning that there is no way to tell if the shots will appear until you take out the photos and set them to dry. This is the risqué nature of the medium that some people reference as more artful than digital.

I interviewed photography instructor Cornelia Hediger to create an exposé on the ins and outs of traditional darkroom film, in comparison to digital photography.

Q: Do you prefer digital or film photography, and why?

A: Overall, I prefer the look and quality of a darkroom print vs a digital print. A traditional printed image, shot on film, has grain. I love the look of grain printed on fiber based paper. You cannot beat that look. It is absolutely stunning.

Q: What are some of the advantages of darkroom photography? What are some of the disadvantages?

A: The advantage of darkroom photography is that you have a negative to work from, versus a digital file. Each image is unique as the prints are done by a person and not a machine. A darkroom print still looks superior to me than a digital file printed in black and white. There are some very nice papers out there that mimic the look of a traditional fiber based print. Definitely, the paper and technology have come a long way and prints, produced with digital files, are starting to look better. The ‘disadvantage’ of a darkroom print is the time factor. It takes longer to produce a darkroom print versus a digital print.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of black and white film photography?

A: My favorite aspect of black and white film photography is that I absolutely love the process. I love to develop film and I love printing in the darkroom. I find it magical to watch an image come up in the developer and I like the slower process of producing an image. In the end, I also prefer the look of a black and white image printed on fiber based paper vs. a digitally produced image.

Q: For young photographers, do you recommend that they learn how to use both film and digital cameras? Do you consider film photography an essential for photographers?

A: I think it is a good idea for young photographers to learn shooting with film and at least experience the process in the darkroom. Film ‘forces’ you to slow down and perhaps be more responsible when taking an image. Each image is recorded on a negative and cannot be deleted like you would delete a digital image. Personally, I find the experience of learning how to take images with film/print in the darkroom essential when learning photography. To some people, it opens up a whole new world whereas others will find the process a slow and tedious one.

Q: Do you think darkroom photography will ever go “extinct”?

A: I do not know if darkroom photography will ever go extinct. In the fine arts, it seems to be making a comeback. The masses and everyday household will not turn around and go back to film. It seems that film and traditional darkroom printing is perhaps surviving through the arts. I have no idea, however, how photography will develop over the next decades.
-End of Interview

Chloe Abidi

First Darkroom Experience–And Some Tips!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Although I missed my classmates and photography dearly this past Saturday, I will admit that it was a treat to be able to sleep in on Saturday morning. Spring Break Forever! Today I’m going to talk to you guys about last week’s class, and what I learned from my first time developing film in a darkroom.

I came into the city with my close friend Anna who also takes a class at FIT, and we met her friend from her class, Fiona, on the train. On our way to class we stopped at Gregory’s Coffee and Fresh&Co and spent some time catching up and chatting (I ordered a cappuccino and some green juice for during class—Anna got herself a little bottle of watermelon juice, and it matched her nails perfectly!). When we got to school we parted ways, me making my way into Pomerantz, and my friends heading to Business.

I came into this photography class with some experience in digital photography (all self taught) and absolutely no prior knowledge with film. 2 classes ago we spent about 2 hours walking around the city, specifically the flat iron district, snapping photos on film. Last class we spent the entire time developing our photos and learning the art of the darkroom—spoiler: it is not as easy as you would think. I had to leave class about an hour an a half early to make it home in time for my sister’s Confirmation, but I did have a chance to occupy the darkroom with 2 other classmates, and use the chemistry to develop my photos (my professor picked up where I left off—she dried and completed my development).

So the darkroom is A LOT darker than I was expecting—I thought my eyes would eventually adjust to the lack of light and I would maybe see the outline of what I was doing, but nope! Pitch black the entire time, which is probably better considering my claustrophobia would’ve kicked once I realized how enclosed and small the space I was in was. I shared my darkroom with 2 other girls, and we took turns cutting, rolling, and enclosing our film in our cages and tanks—thank God one of them has had experience with the darkroom before, because I could not open my film container with the can opener in the dark for the life of me. After a few attempts, we were all finally successful, and we triumphantly left the dark room after about 20 minutes—pretty good for our first time if you ask me. I then spent the rest of my class using chemicals to develop my film, and I left class with chemical stains all over my shirt and ID (if you close up on the picture of my outfit you’ll notice the stains). I put together a few tips to keep in mind while using the dark room to make your experience run smoother, especially if it’s your first time:

  • Wear practical footwear!! Seriously—I know it’s the Fashion Institute of Technology and outfits are a big part of peoples’ self expression and identity, but open toed shoes and heels in a dark room are just an accident waiting to happen—trust me. A girl in my class wears heels a lot, so she brings a pair of slippers with her to wear when working in the darkroom. If your outfit must include hazardous shoes, bring something to change into—and remember, the dark room is dark, so no one will even see your feet anyway!
  • Wear dark clothing—and nothing too fancy. This class is one that is interactive and artistic, which means that you are bound to stain something on yourself at least once during the class. The chemicals splash easily, and you usually won’t notice it on yourself until it dries. Don’t worry, it’ll wash out, but dark clothing is more ideal to hide the stain anyway.
  • If you have glasses, wear them! Goggles are mandatory when working with the chemicals, so it’s better to have perfect vision and eye protection, rather than having to wear goggles.
  • Bring your own scissors and portable can openers—It’s just easier to have your own set of tools rather than having to spend time in the dark room taking turns using the devices, while also blindly searching for them—and you’re pretty much hopeless if you drop something on the floor. Also, the can openers that I have used were not the newest or sharpest, making it harder for me to try to prod open my film case. Using a newer one can cut some time out of your darkroom use, which will make everything faster.

Next class, we will be reviewing our photos and discussing our final projects—something that I should really get started on. Let me know about your first dark room experience in the comments below!

Until next class,

~Francesca

Fresh juice aesthetics ft. Anna’s smirk

Some cappuccino love

A quick #OOTD–close up on my top to see some lovely chemical stains from photo developing