Being in a darkroom is like entering a unique domain. There’s a specific system. Time moves significantly slower so that when you get back to the outside world you’ve easily lost hours. The smell is a mix of the chemicals required to make your images appear, developer, stop bath, and fixer. Considering the toxicity it’s not something one should get too used to but for me it’s become a comforting aroma. The light is a low amber color because of the light sensitivity of the photographic paper. The need for near darkness adds to the calming affects of the process. It’s not a difficult procedure to learn however the cost of the materials makes you vary weary of mistakes. After you’ve exposed your paper to the desired image and placed it in the first tray of chemicals, you watch as the picture slowly reveals itself. It’s interesting to watch beginners do this for the first time the look on their face is usually one of awe. Digital provides instant gratification but film makes you wait to see if you’ve obtained the desired results. When you have to spend more time and effort adjusting the many components there’s a greater sense of satisfaction when it finally turns out perfect.
A few years ago I interned for a non-profit called the Joy of Giving Something and their mission is to advance the arts in education, specifically photography. They have contests for high school students with various prizes. They also instituted the Forward Thinking Museum, which is a virtual museum for photography. The stakes are higher here for amateur and professional photographers. If you win their quarterly contest you get your own virtual solo-exhibit and $1000. The annual winners are awarded the JGS Artist Awards in the amount of $5000. So if you think your work represents the current state of the world and how it can be transformed check out the Forward Thinking Museum and enter, the next deadline is December 31, 2013. Even if your work doesn’t fall into this realm check out the website for some excellent photographs and SPREAD THE WORD!
I finally got around to seeing the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit at the MET. Though the selection was smaller than I expected it was definitely worth going. Cameron only started photographing when she was 48 years old but her portraits are excellent. She knew some celebrities in her time like Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel. And like any great artist she wasn’t appreciated in her own time because she didn’t follow the conventional rules of photography. Some of her work was staged images of religious scenes, which I didn’t particular care for. However her portraits were exceptional. Even the ones that were dark and blurry held so much emotion and movement. Many of them had a ghost-like quality but still captured the life of the subject. I wish the MET was able to show more of her work but I encourage everyone to go see it. It’ll be up till January 5, 2014.
As creepy as it sounds, I love to spend time in and photograph cemeteries. Especially the older ones like Cypress Hills and Calvary, where there is an enormous variety of headstones and mausoleums. Some headstones have old black and white photos of the deceased embedded in them. Some mausoleums have stained glass that is almost completely intact. You can encounter graves going back to the early 1800s. The state of the graves can vary from pristine to completely decrepit. Similar to my fascination with urban decay you can feel the history and see how time and nature reclaims everything.
100 Cameras is a non-profit organization that believes in using photography to help change a community. 100 Cameras supplies kids in marginalized communities with cameras to photograph their surroundings so that they can share their story. This is an organization that understands and is utilizing the power of photography. Learn more at 100cameras.org
Here’s a short video that further illustration what they do http://vimeo.com/38934337
Wet plate photography is a nearly extinct method that was developed in the late 1800s. The process uses glass or metal plates to capture the image. It requires a chemical bonding agent called collodion and silver nitrate, which is what makes the plate light sensitive. While wet the plate is placed in the camera for exposure. The plate is then developed and fixed like film; the plate becomes your negative to make prints off of.
Ian Ruhter is a modern day photographer who has devoted his life to traveling around and utilizing wet plate photography. He turned a van into one large camera so he can produce large-scale images on the road. It is a complicated and difficult process but when it works its extremely rewarding.
Here’s a link to a video explaining who Ian Ruhter is and what he does.
I’m drawn to photograph urban decay and industrial areas. Places that most people consider ugly I find to be endlessly beautiful. You can feel the history radiating from these sites. They’ve been abandoned, no longer considered productive and left to be reclaimed by the surrounding nature. These places are forgotten and often times will eventually be leveled and replaced by a new building that looks as uninspiring as all other contemporary structures. When I see areas like this I don’t see wasted space I see a missed opportunity for people to keep their history alive and I have to record what is left.
You can make your camera using something as simple as a shoebox. These are called pinhole cameras because your make-shift lens is literally a hole made by a pin or sewing needle. The body needs to be completely light tight and you need to have a secure shutter. Then you just need a darkroom to load and unload the photo paper. Here’s a link to a site called Instructables that gives you step by step directions on how to construct your own pinhole camera. This site is a great resources for any DIY projects.
Richard Renaldi is a photographer who is currently working on a project in New York called “Touching Strangers”. He sets up his massive large format camera on a street in the city and plucks two or three complete strangers out of the crowd. But the final photographs don’t portray strangers. Renaldi is able to craft an image that looks as if the people in the photo have known each other for years. Renaldi’s goal is to get people to drop their barriers, at least for a few moments.
In the art world photography doesn’t hold the same respect as painting or sculpture. I’ve had professors who’ve made this opinion obvious. People who pride themselves on having extensive knowledge of art history and the skills involved with “real” art completely disregard photography. But we don’t talk about all mediums in the same way, there are different skills, and elements, and styles. So why can’t photography be added to the conversation? A phrase you often hear is a person has “a good eye”. It could be an eye for painting, or drawing, or film making, or photography. Because everyone sees the world differently, especially artists and this is expressed in their art. Photography isn’t just snap shots, there’s thinking and planning and effort. The subject matter and materials are taken into consideration to achieve the desired effect. It isn’t the same as more widely accepted arts it just requires a different eye and thorough knowledge of the medium.
Many photo 1 classes don’t actually teach you the right way to work with 35mm black and white film. They show you the very basics then make it more of an art critique class, where the focus is on themes and content. By the end you’ll have a better understanding of composition but you’ll actually have low-quality photographs. You have to take a more advance photo class to learn how to do it properly and effectively. The chemicals used require an exact process in order to develop the best negatives. Intro classes don’t go into depth because people who aren’t invested won’t be interested in all the test that have to be done before you can take good photographs. Not all cameras are the same and not all film is the same. Multiple tests need to be done to determine what conditions should be used for each camera and sets of film. Not teaching this right off the bat means you have to relearn everything in an upper level class. It’s a disservice to the serious photographers that want to learn and adds to the misconception that all photography requires is pushing a button.