At my most recent show, however, the art couldn't wait. That show only lasted four and a half hours of one evening. Two-hundred and fifty-odd people later, it was all over, never to resurface. The ephemeral beauty of a one-day show was one of the reasons I accepted the offer; thank you all for making it the raucous, joyous cacophonic din of a celebration it was. I'll never forget it.
By request, this post includes all the photo-related materials you might not have had a chance fully take in: the statements, the darkroom explanations and more (we're going to forget about the book for a second; it's photo time!). I'm also including representations of all the photos used in the show in a slideshow, below.
But please remember: none of the pictures in the slideshow are art. They're just representations of art. They're copies, and especially as the show was so much about the beauty of what analogue prints look like in person, you can understand how pointless the digital negative scans I include here are. They're for reference only. Those of you who were there will remember the richness of the colors, the deepness of those silver halide blacks, and the burned-in light bleed and negative sprockets surrounding the images, like so:
These are not my best pictures of people. These are the ones where something registered. We gaze curiously out at life, and there are fleeting glimpses that feel like they contain answers to something, details heretofore unnoticed: a suggestion of something larger, shapes we can sense but can't define.
Portraiture in painting captures one expression or another; here we can find the split-second fraction in between, that hidden moment of the sublime, where all questions are answered. These are less pictures of people than pictures of what I think about people, how I see them; how I feel about places.
Image titles stem from my book, The Lines That Make Us (a book version of my bus-driving blog), an attempt to record these moments using words and a wider cross-section of the public.
Analogue color photography will be remembered as one of the shortest-lived art forms. It came of age in the 70s, and died out on August 30th, 2018, when the last major color darkroom in the United States closed its doors. The timing is unfortunate: film, though no longer the norm for image-making, remains the only serious avenue of approach for fine art photo work and is the fastest-growing trend in photography today. After two decades of experimentation with digital cameras, there can be no arguing that film yields a better image. Aside from the romance of its analogue and one-off nature (every darkroom print is an original, and no two are alike), it offers black levels, density, tonal range, and a spectrum of color utterly unique to itself.
These prints are from that last color darkroom, Evergreen College's Photoland.
Yes, the medium and method have passed on now, but is it really too late to celebrate their qualities? Let's give the poor guy a chance. Analogue color, the populist sibling of black and white photography (itself the awkward stepchild of painting) was part of a medium invented too late to be taken seriously. But: look at those color tones, the depth of black in that burned silver halide! The spectrum of green you wish your computer could understand… It will, as ever, be the most sensitive of visual aesthetics, the delicate one, fragile– but perhaps not forgotten.
I mount them here on wood in an attempt to give them the wider situational context of painting, to try and let them touch the centuries they never got to capture. I filed the negative carriers to allow light to further burn through the exposed sprocket holes, the better to share that these were made by hand and by chemical, in a process as tactile as you or me.
Color darkroom: What's the big deal??
With Evergreen closed, the next closest lab is now Contact Photo in LA; aside from that, either three or four remain in the country. The number is disputed. None were as large, well-run or as state-of-the-art as Evergreen.
Why film? Why darkroom?
A digital print is a reproduction using ink on paper.
A film print, however, is an original. The paper is coated with light-sensitive silver halide crystals that burn when exposed to light and change color. The longer a crystal is burned, the blacker it gets. These chromogenic prints you see are the result of this handmade, organic process. They were exposed to light for the first time from light shining through a negative. No two darkroom prints are alike.
How to tell the difference?
The easiest place to discern the difference between film and digital prints is in skin tones or large areas of an image with color gradation, like clouds or sky. Skin has a lot of shades of color in it, and digital, which only has thousands of colors, has trouble capturing them all. Film has millions of colors. It also has a higher exposure latitude– it's more able to capture something dark (a face in front of a window, for example) and something bright (the sky behind that window) within the same image.
Another place is black levels. Look at the deepness of the blacks. Yum. Those silver halide crystals that've been burned by light. By comparison, the black parts of a digital print are just black ink. Which has nothing on burned silver crystals!
What are the narrow image strips with different bands of brightness? They're called "test strips," and you make them before doing a full print. They help you determine how much of which color of light to shine onto your paper, for the right color cast. Note the color shifts from one test strip to another. They also help figure the amount of light you want to burn those crystals with: the banded image is 2 seconds of light on the lightest end, then 4 seconds, then 6 seconds, and so on.
So Now Then
These technical details are fun, but ultimately unimportant. Why are all museum-quality colour prints always chromogenic prints? It's about what we feel, looking at the images. The organic, handmade object, like ourselves; an original, slightly different from all the rest, ephemeral and delicate and sensitive; strong and vibrant, but most notable for its subtleties.
Doesn't that describe your favorite person, the best parts of life?
Again, the scans below are just to give you an idea. But you can still tell they're film– the dreaminess of the grain, the color scale and tonal range, the multiple exposure possibilities. On prints I like to file the negative carrier (pictured below the slideshow– with the "Yay" sticker) so light can burn through the edges and leave a surrogate border of burned light and exposed sprockets, as evidence of the process, as if to say: this was made by hand and light. On negative scans, where that isn't possible, I like to leave dust and hair on the scanner glass, to similarly reinforce the origins of the format: this is film. For some reason this is really important to me. Hover over the images for titles and film stock info.
The biggest reason film still exists is because, well, there's nothing else like it. Put simply and objectively, it yields a better image. But there's also something undeniably attractive about that which is tactile, tangible, real: Books. Vinyl. Talking to people. Film. Lived experience. Working with your hands. The process of light hitting crystals, and chemical baths and organic nature of the development.
Thank you for taking an interest.
Prints of mine are always for sale. Inquire!