Darkroom Printing – a typical session

photographic darkroom printing

I thought I would describe a typical darkroom printing session. When I go into the darkroom to make a silver gelatin print I usually like to start pretty much first thing in the morning, so I can take my time. I don’t like to be in a rush when I’m printing, it’s a mental state that is counterproductive in my experience to being creative and receptive to the materials you work with. In my case I print exclusively on baryta base (otherwise known as fibre based) papers. When I step into the darkroom I will have one, or at most, two negatives I wish to make exhibition prints from. I am usually armed with a contact print of the negatives in question, or an earlier print that I have tried to make but has failed to meet my expectations. These proofs or ‘failures’I use as departure points or guides as to where I might like to take the image and materials. When I am assessing a photograph or negative before creating an exhibition print I look for what I find visually exciting about the image and see how I can improve on it. By going to the area that most interests me I can quickly determine through test strips how far I can take the image before I destroy the very qualities or nuances in the print I am seeking. This process gives me a foundation on which to assess the remaining areas of the image in relation to the first. Printing in black and white is especially about how tones within the finished image relate to one another. This process of assessment may not suite everyone, others may prefer to look at highlights and low values of a print overall to begin their process, but apart from gross overexposure or underexposure I find this process difficult for me. I like to go straight to the feeling of the image.

Lefroy Brook Wattie tree karri forest Pemberton Australia

Typically on a 16×20 inch print like the Lefroy Brook one above, I will spend several hours making test strips. I will be searching for the highlights that make the print sing and the low values that anchor the tones to a deep baritone base, revealing the beauty and tonal depth of a silver gelatin print. In the process I will often find a few printing problems that will call on my darkroom craftsmanship to solve. Sometimes they remain unsolvable but instead present an opportunity to learn about fine tuning your craft and technique.

By midday I will start making the first full size images based upon a proper exposure to the highlights. Then I will begin the first series of refinements using various test strip information. This may include some addition exposure (burning in) of print areas or shielding of areas (dodging) from the base exposure.  This is an important stage because up to now  only test strips have been made and this is the first opportunity to see the print in its entirety and observe the overall relationship of tones. Further refinements of dodging and burning may be required to balance the print tones and maximise details in the soft creamy whites of the prints.

Printing notes Lefroy Brook

To keep track of these adjustments I write them down on the reverse side of the print with a black china marker. Once all the adjustments have been completed to my satisfaction, I then set about making 4 or 5 finished prints based upon the printing recipe I have constructed. Notes on how I made the print are kept for future reference in a notebook, illustrated above.

It is now about mid afternoon and I have made 4 or 5 prints from the one negative. All test strips and work prints are discarded, only the remaining 4 or 5 are washed, treated in hypo clearing agent to clear any residual fixer, then washed for several more hours. The wet print are then dried face down on plastic screen mesh where they air dry  for at least 24 hours at room temp. At a later stage I will selenium tone the prints and rewash and dry.

By the time the print is toned, trimmed and dry mounted onto 100% cotton rag museum board, then window mounted and framed you are looking at several days work, but I get a deep satisfaction when I view the finished images knowing that I have been responsible for every stage in bringing a print from just an idea into existence.

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Photography Exhibition Canning River Eco Education Centre

Canning River Wetlands Perth Australia

Photography Exhibition Canning River is a personal photographic project I began taking my camera with me on my daily walks to record the wetland landscape between Greenfield Bridge and Kent St Weir and some of the uses people made of it.

Photographing the Canning River Regional Park was a natural extension of the landscape photography I have been making for publications since the late 80s. Most of that work has drawn me to remote locations, often national parks and reserves, where I would hike, camp and photograph.

The concept of national parks is sometimes a curious one. Parks and reserves are defined on maps with explicit boundaries indicated by blocks of colour or dotted lines. Of course in the natural world no such clear cut boundaries really exist, just regions of transition. However, those dotted lines hold power, shaping how we identify with the land and our perception of its value.  Images made within a national park boundary are more readily published than a similar landscape outside of that boundary.

Consequently, one landscape’s value can be held above another. This is not surprising as visiting national parks invokes positive associations of beauty, the exotic, freedom, relaxation and ‘getting back to nature’.

The landscape I am choosing to interpret does not involve the romance of travel, it is familiar not exotic, it is in my own back yard, within the city.

But choosing to value one landscape over another, and by implication the welfare of one above another, may be just as curious a notion as the neat lines drawn on a map. All land forms are interconnected and communicate through zones of transition with each other. The welfare and healthy state of one region affects its neighbouring regions, and so on. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

No where is this concept more apparent than the example of the Canning River flowing from a plateau down to an urbanised sand plain, meeting the Swan River, then out to sea. A river does not observe discrete boundaries or rights granted on a map, nor do birds or animals. Likewise a fence does not prevent weeds from spreading from one side to another, or define a clear ecological demarcation of species habitat, nor does it prevent water or air borne contaminants from one side entering another.

Much work in research, monitoring and rehabilitation has been conducted within the park by agencies and volunteers.  The resulting images started in 2011 have now emerged into a pictorial collection of the park land in its current state and use. I have chosen to embrace all of the park’s character, including both native species and the new invading species which have arrived since European settlement.  To this day I continue to make images of the parkland and river, as part of an ongoing project in documenting its state of change. 44 images have been published in the book: Lost in Suburbia, published by Stormlight Publishing, which was launched and exhibited at Riverton Library in 2013.

If you are in the Wilson – Kent Street area then please come to Photography Exhibition Canning River and have a look, afterwards you can enjoy a coffee next door at the cafe.

Canning River Eco Education Centre     Opening times and map

May 12 to June 5th, 2014

 

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Donnelly River Pemberton

Donnelly River sunset
Donnelly River Pemberton
D’Entrecasteau National Park

I was weighing up whether I should go or not, stay put and relax as the day draws to a close or get my backpack and tripod ready and head out?  The cloud had been building steadily all day with an increasing south westerly wind and now, in the late afternoon it was completely overcast. This was my last night at the mouth of the Donnelly River, in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park of WA. I could either stay put and get myself warm and settled for the night or I could use this last evening of this trip and see if there was an opportunity to make a final sunset photograph. The wispy high level clouds had all but disappeared behind darker, lower clouds marching over the horizon. I stared upwards trying to read the sky, watching the two layers of high and low cloud travel in opposite directions, as if to collide with each other. Definitely a cold front on the way. With the fast moving cloud thickening, and the western horizon becoming steadily darker I didn’t have high hopes of making an image before the end of the day, if anything it looked like I was going to get wet. But one thing is for sure, if you don’t go out and try then the result is definitely no photograph. But it is in exactly these unpredictable weather conditions that you can witness some of the most spectacular changes in light.

I grabbed my camera bag and tripod, put them in the dinghy and travelled down river to the wide sandbar that partially blocks the flow of the Donnelly River into the Southern Ocean. I anchored in the crystalline white sand and studied the limestone cliffs hoping to find a reflection in the tannin stained river if the sun should re-appear. The wind was picking up making it difficult to keep the camera gear clear of fine sand particles. Looking back towards the dinghy, I set up my Wista 4×5 field camera and a Calumet 6×12 roll film back loaded with 50 ISO Velvia. The roll film 6x12cm format suited the composition best and would possibly allow me 2 quick exposures in relatively short succession. Setting a pre determined aperture and shutter I then covered the camera in a plastic bag to protect it from the wind borne sand, and waited.

It was getting late with the sun setting and it looked like my chance of capturing some dramatic light was fading with every second that passed. Then the unexpected happened, for a brief moment a break in the cloud let a small sweeping sliver of light trace a path down along the coast. Removing the bag I cocked the shutter and waited for the sweep of light to hit the sand dune mound in the middle of the bar. I released the shutter,  exposed the film for one second, replaced the double dark and wound on the next frame. By then the light had gone completely, there would be no second image and sheets of rain were coming.

That night back at camp I cleaned my camera gear by candle light. In the relative quiet between the showers of rain I could hear various frogs calling in the dark and the lone call of a mopoke owl. Tired, I settled into my sleeping bag with the satisfaction of knowing that I had not foregone an opportunity to make a final image during my stay,  by making the effort of  being ready and just being out there.

Are you creating similar opportunities for your photography? Twelve months later I published this image as a double page spread.

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Canning River signs of Autumn

Canning River Perth

The hard summer dryness in the parkland around the Canning River is slowly softening. Yesterday morning there were signs that the seasons were changing with our first mist for the calendar year. The daytime air is still warm but the sun is getting up a little later each day. I took an early morning stroll with my camera, the landscape enveloped by a gentle glowing light, something we don’t see too frequently here in Perth. A few early morning joggers and walkers were out enjoying the cooler air, but mostly I had the misty forest and pathways to myself, it was a quiet and peaceful morning of a long weekend. You could barely believe that this regional park is bordered by suburbia, shopping centres and highways. For those of us who live near the Canning River in Perth, we are just so lucky to have this wonderful asset at our doorstep whilst being in the middle of a city.

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