Although I’ve played around in the past I’ve never really had the motivation to seriously print my film photographs. My usual workflow involves scanning my negatives, and then releasing them digitally. When I’ve sold prints in the past I’ve used my local labs drum scanner for high quality results which are then printed in the same way my digital files are, on industrial, thick, matte paper.
However something about darkroom printing has always appealed to me, in the same way that film itself as a medium appeals to me. I think there is something to be said about being “limited” as an artist, especially in this age of unlimited sharing. Content is churned out and turned into digital ephemera – as much as this creates a global community of artists it also means that things like theft of attribution, or unlicensed prints, and abstract things like “devaluation” are rife like never before.
When it comes to printing I limit my runs, and will be very clear that once they are sold I will not be printing any further. When it comes to sharing my work on social media and my blog I also try to hold back as much work as I feel I can afford to, in order to have a selection of never before seen images, which make prints, and the eventual publication of those images even more special. When I eventually start to curate my work for books and future galleries this will give my audience a reason to actually come and see my work in person, as they will not find it on my Instagram.
I feel that through printing my own images, in my own methods, and knowing who buys them firsthand, gives me a sense of true craftsmanship, as well as more control over my brand. It also allows my customers to feel like they possess something truly special, as unique as any painting. It is so nice to have the “properly” finished and final result of a film negative, as negative photography is designed to be darkroom printed by its very nature. Holding images in my hands that I have moments before exposed and bathed in chemicals is so much more rewarding than taking a sheet out of a printer.
The darkroom I use is the “Dark Studio” in Shoreditch, recommended to me by my friend Andy. It’s a great little space, especially as in London I simply don’t have the room or mental capacity to operate a darkroom in my flat. Max who runs the darkroom is a very helpful chap, and I’ve found the entire experience to be positive every time I’ve had a session there.
Darkroom printing is definitely something I would recommend, especially if you’re just starting out with film. It’s an aspect overlooked by so many, but really grounds your work, almost as much of an anchor as the original negative in some cases. From a mindset point of view the process can make all the difference to someone feeling that their work is lacking – an incentive to improve for the sake of holding that beautiful image. Personally I enjoy the role of darkroom printing within the film community, with occasions like print swaps, or simply giving a nice print as a sentimental gift.
The prints in this article were made using ILFORD paper (my favourite so far is Multigrade IV Resin Coated Satin), and sourced from negatives of a variety of film-types.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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