By Clio Morrison
One minute in the developer, 30 seconds in the stop bath and two minutes in the fixer. I know the time increments of the darkroom like I know the alphabet.
It begins with setting my aperture, focusing the lens and pressing the shutter at just the right instant. Film photography allows me to manipulate this instant, to print it and, in some way, to immortalize it.
I place the paper in the clean water. The image that I have been coaxing into view for the past three hours is finally complete. The experience of creating an image from scratch fills me with joy.
Still photography defies time’s movement.
A matter of trial and error — and judgement
Film photography is not easy, and the satisfaction is not immediate. It takes time. First, you must develop the photosensitive film in complete darkness. With negatives in hand, you can print your images. Aside from a few ambient light bulbs, black and white printing is also done in darkness.
The enlarger emits light from the negative onto light-sensitive paper. You then dip the paper into three chemicals — developer, stop bath and fixer — and the image emerges on the paper.
No photographer knows right away how long to shine the light onto the paper, how strong a light beam to use or how much contrast. It’s a matter of trial and error — and judgement. You must have patience and make multiple test strips before taking the leap and printing a full-blown image.
It is the 21st century, and the obsession with achieving efficiency has never been more prevalent. Applications that automatically lock your house, Uber, Fresh Direct and electric automobiles exist for the same purpose: to harness technology in order to increase productivity.
Why hail a taxi cab when you can simply click “Order Uber”? Why go to the store when you can order groceries from the comfort of your couch?
My sanctuary is the darkroom.
Our ideology is to rely on technology to do the work for us. This approach dilutes the quality of our human experience. Today, we steer further away from the process and drive closer to the product, focusing our attention on the outcome.
Printing in the darkroom is a tedious art form, and inventions like “Portrait Mode” on the iPhone 7 make it possible to achieve similar results with much less time and effort. Photography is suddenly made easy.
But the digital revolution and social media have made photography less of an intimate practice. With Instagram and Snapchat, we share and like each others’ photos immediately. The photo becomes just another image in an over-saturated online world.
With film, there are no pixelated images. A film camera has higher resolution than most of today’s digital cameras. A film photograph can capture details that may well be lost in digital work.
I am a child of Instagram, yet I have made the conscious decision to work with film, resisting the growing digital trend.
The darkroom is my sanctuary. I find peace in the red ambient light. I dodge and burn my images with purpose and passion.
I maintain this practice of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with pride. Each time I print a new image, I uphold the value of the experience while challenging the contemporary doctrine of efficiency above all else.
Clio Morrison is in her second-to-last year of high school, currently studying in Rennes, France with the School Year Abroad program. She plans to finish high school at Friends Seminary in New York next year. Her passions include film photography, reading and watching movies. Her favorite classes are French, Art History and European History. In university, she hopes to study English or History, and one day she would like to be a photojournalist.