The art of the darkroom photography

For those who are passionate with photography the below testimonial will travel them to time back to the traditional photography and enable them to understand the value of the unreproducible.

Last week I visited Florina- my cozy birth town where I lived a wonderful childhood. A rainy afternoon whilst enjoying a Greek coffee, I had an extremely interesting conversation with my uncle on the darkroom photographic process.

Indeed, in 1930s, being a photographer required fair amount effort, years of experience and a well-equipped darkroom. The actual process of transferring the picture to paper did not seem to be a simple matter. One of the basic characteristics of traditional photography is the fact that old photographers could carry out many of the processes themselves, adding high proportion of their own creative touch and have a charm of their own. Each creation is unique, and even when several are printed from a single negative, no two are exactly the same.

Back in 1930s my grandfather Achilleas Vogdanidis was printing the instant photos in the little darkbox of his wooden camera in the center of the town’s square and a few years later he was transposed into his small darkroom of his first Photography Store.

After photographing in a slide, my grandfather was moving to the darkroom for the printing process. The photographic processing transformed the latent image into a visible image printed on a paper. Following the developing of the light-sensitive material (slide), the Red Light was turned on. The exposed and developed slide was placed on a frosted glass whilst the milky white light put in the opposite side was helping him to retouch the details by using a sharp pencil.

The darkroom process is a science. My grandfather was going through countless steps before delivering the final image to his client.

Following the retouching, the developed piece of the photographic slide was placed on a contact printer, in contact with a piece of photographic paper formed by silver salts. The use of the contact printer required the operator to manually switch and count off the seconds himself in order to expose the negative’s image onto the paper. The more precise the exposure was, the more correctly the latent image was created. Wherever the light was briefly stroke the paper, the silver halides form small specks of silver metal on their surface. Light causes a reduction of the silver salt to silver metal. The paper was then soaked in the developer to reveal the final image, which transformed the silver halide particles that had a latent image speck on them into metallic silver. Now the image is visible, but the remaining unexposed silver halide must still be removed to make the image permanent. But first the print was placed into the stop bath, which was stopping development. The next bath which was the fixer that made the image permanent and light-resistant by dissolving remaining silver halide. And finally, a water bath removed the fixed from the print and protected it from fading and deterioration. The final image was suspended to be dried out and afterwards, delivered to the client. This process was taking approximately only 10 minutes. Only 10 minutes and the invisible became visible through chemistry and art.

That’s why this type of photography is so genuine and involves hands-on experimentation. That’s why I see black and white photography as art. That’s why I consider myself so lucky since I was a kid growing up in the 1990’s and seeing my grandfather working in his lab; his wonderful tiny darkroom that prevented his reputation as a photographer not to fade out through the years!