Darkroom techniques: New ways of seeing

Post by Photofusion’s darkroom technician, Simon Fernandez.

One of the challenges in photography today is to stand out among the crowd. This sounds like an obvious statement to make, but quite often it’s over looked and replaced by a tendency to go with the flow of technology and work within the confines of the equipment or software you use.

It’s also an over-simplified statement to make, as developing your own style of photography can be just as much about the process of discovery, as the making of a finished photograph. For some photographers it isn’t enough to create images which fall between the parameters of traditionally accepted practices; the only logical step is to take established practices and bend them to suit their own expression.

One of the interesting side effects of digital photography replacing film photography as the industry standard when it comes to mass image making, is that it leaves film photography with one big question; where to go?

There’s a strong parallel between now, and the emergence of film photography and its gradual take over from painters and print makers in the latter half of the 19th century. Up until that point if you wanted to record an event or commission a family portrait you would go to them. Once camera and film technology was industrialised (by Kodak) to the point where it was widely available to the mass market there was no longer a need for painters and other artists of the day to be the recorders of society. Photography didn’t do it better – it just made it easier, cheaper and quicker.

It’s wrong to say that the invention of film photography was the only driving force that encouraged painters to break with tradition, and create the many modern art movements of the 20th Century; if anything a lot of painters used photography to help take painting into new directions.

The parallel between then and now is that with the presence of an invention which does it quicker, cheaper and easier; film photographers now are more aware that they have the option to explore photography on a more personal level, where there is no ‘correct’ form photography. Subject and photographic technique are there to be manipulated for the sake of concept, and traditional methods can be mixed with modern methods to achieve this goal.

Alexandra Waespi

Alexandra’s work pushes the photographic print further through experimentation with chemical reactions, manipulation of the film’s emulsion, and alternative darkroom and digital processes.

She develops color film at home, often with a rough development process, bending negatives in the reel and varying the temperatures and times. In the darkroom she prints on found old paper and applies the developer with a paintbrush.

With the printed image, new layers are added by hand. Her scanner manipulations were first developed in her attempt to archive her work digitally. She believes the manipulations transform her images into an alternate reality, which fuses analogue and handcrafted techniques with digital glitches. After these stages she is left with a tangible object rather than individual photographs.

Her inspiration comes from early 20th century colour photography; particularly the techniques used in hand colouring and toned black and white prints. She is also influenced by the toned prints from Boris Mikhalov and intuitive style of Miroslav Tichy.  


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Colour negative film. Layers of tape sandwiched between negative and scanner. Colour print photocopied on green paper. Drawn on with pen and manipulated while scanning. Gelatin silver print manipulated with the scanner. Mounted on exposed gelatin silver paper. Photographed digitally. Triptych. Stained negatives from underdevelopment, printed in the darkroom and mounted on card. Photographed digitally. Test trip from the darkroom. Coloured with yellow pen and manipulated in the scanner then sandpaper, coloured pencil and markers.
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Hand coloured gelatin silver print. Photocopied. Framed with the light protective paper from a photo paper box. Mounted into the photo box. Photographed digitally. Hand coloured gelatin silver print. Pasted on my window and photographed digitally. Polaroid emulsion lift. Framed with tape on found exposed 8×10 expired film. Photographed digitally. Gelatin silver print manipulation. Painted developer on old fogged paper. Scanned. Hand coloured gelatin silver print. Lightly etched with sandpaper and roughly drawn on with ballpoint pen. Scanned.
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Negative and darkroom manipulation. Black ink applied directly on the negative to only reveal the girl. Painted developer on gelatin silver paper in the darkroom. Scanned. Scanner manipulation. B&W negative, etched and then moved while scanning. Scanner manipulation. B&W negative with scratched colour gel sandwiched between negative and scanner Scanner manipulation. B&W negative with yellow gel sandwiched between negative and scanner. Gelatin silver print, hand coloured then scanned. Experimented with a moving a brush down the left side of the print while scanning.
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Hand coloured and collaged silver gelatin print, scanned. Scanner manipulation. Layers of tape sandwiched between negative and scanner. Scanner manipulation. Layers of tape sandwiched between negative and scanner. Left, gelatin silver print, toned in yellow, hand coloured with gel pens and pencil crayon. Right, Colour print layered with clear plastic. Photocopy of a hand coloured gelatin silver print. Pasted on exposed photo paper and etched.

Some other photographers to watch out for…

Robin Cracknell

Inspired by cinema, Cracknell aims to give still images a narrative quality that speaks about love, loss and memory. Using no digital processes whatsoever he works with old cameras and salvaged 35mm cine film. This technique of combining cinematography with traditional still photography and various mixed media came about from spending many of those years killing time in the ICA projection booth, watching obscure movies and gathering up the random cuttings of discarded film which later became the basis for his work.


Sarah Schönfeld

In an attempt to explore modern day fascination with science and the effects of drugs on the human body Sarah Schönfeld had created work using a range of chemical substances.

Schönfeld squeezed drops of various liquid drug mixtures onto previously exposed negative film. Each drop altered the coating of the film differently creating a range of visual effects. The enlarged images were up to 160 x 200cm, creating hyper-real representations of each chemical reaction. This effect of which is an exploration of the possibilities of photography and what it can visually portray calling into question the scientific properties of a subjective form of representation.


Daiske Yokota

Daisuke Yokota is part of a leading young generation of Japanese photographers. His Site/Cloud series challenges Japanese photographic tradition mixing black and photo and colour photography using some unconventional techniques.

The process of creation of these works are an integral part the final piece; using a combination of digital photography and traditional film to shoot and re-shoot images. By setting up an improvised darkroom in his apartment Yokota experiments with analogue techniques and chemical processes, where layers of chance and visual manipulation leaves its traces more clearly over time. The effect of this is often haunting and mysteriously poetic as if they are representations of a different world.


by Simon Fernandez
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