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 The Print: The Makings of a Home Darkroom

The Print: The Makings of a Home Darkroom

These are the sort of prints that involve taking an enlarger, shining it on some photographic paper, then dipping them in trays of chemicals to unearth – somewhat miracle-like – an image that appears as the developer washes over it.
When washing the print under a tap in the laundry, there’s a study of the final image for contrast, density, exposure, and (most annoyingly, and far more common) dust spots. Tiny bits of dust, either ones on the negative or ones that have landed on some part of the apparatus, block the light from the enlarger hitting the paper and come up as bright white spots in the final print (eliminating dust is a constant battle).
Somewhat understandably, I often get queries about why I would persist in the darkroom in this day and age, with the questions usually centred around two axis: firstly, the accessibility of equipment (‘isn’t it hard to get materials?’) and, secondly, the purpose (‘why not use a printer?’)

The answer to the first part is easier than the second. 

The reality, for me anyways, is that this sort of photography is actually far more accessible than ever. Situated in a pretty quiet town in Western Australia some 500kms to the nearest major city (Perth) would have been a nightmare for photographers in the past looking to get supplies. Nowadays its far easier – I can get chemicals and film posted almost within the week. The paper comes from a Sydney supplier of Czechoslovakian photographic paper, and I have an Italian made enlarger with an endless amount of information available about it online. If there’re any troubles in the darkroom, I simply consult my Ansel Adams series of darkroom books and YouTube. 
The second part of printing at home, the ‘why’, is much murkier territory. It’s the sort of query that can quickly descend into romanticised speeches on photography that I do enjoy but aren’t totally helpful. The reason why I think it might still be worthwhile, besides all the romanticised stuff, is first and foremost in its very performance. Which might seem strange for a process that is really very slow, painfully slow at times, but looking at a photo retrospective in a Sydney gallery some years ago now, with old masters prints set beside contemporary artists, it was totally confronting to see the difference in print quality.

The older gelatin silver prints were just totally superior. Its that same old thing of there being a sacrifice when going fast compared to the quality that remains when taking it slow, dust spot by dust spot. 
 
Craig Allsop
 
Craig Allsop
Craig Allsop is an applied anthropologist. He’s interested in remote ways of life as well as the stuff found down the street. His photography work deals with ways of seeing, and being in the world, the sort of work that’s not for people in a hurry. After long periods of travel the past couple of years have seen Craig somewhat settled in West Australia. Working and exploring the remote West Australian Desert.
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