A Process to Process

Winter is still in full effect here in Detroit, and although the days have gotten significantly longer, the last three days have been nothing but white. Snow, snow, more snow. I put on Pink Floyd, The Dark side of the Moon. It seems fitting with the outside mood, the tone. But also with today’s post.

When I first listened to this album I was surprised by the sequence of the songs, and in particular how one just flowed into the other. The first few times I thought there was some kind of copying error because the start of the songs started with the prior’s song ending. It was a continuum. And I was confused, and then intrigued by this.

It’s as if in the generic mastery of their art, they had also included some structure. The songs placed in particular sequence to enhance the development of the story, not take away from it.

Similar is the Process to Process photographs in the darkroom.

The darkroom is an organized meditating room. Contrary to a black and white darkroom, where a safelight can be used (commonly red) the color processing dark is pitch black. It’s so dark that’s it’s good practice to make noises while moving inside it, like snapping fingers, humming or whistling.

The black and white darkroom that I use

And having to snap, clap, hum or whistle all with your hands full of equipment as you navigate the  room.

50mm 2.8 Nikon enlarging lens, a proof easel, a speed easel, photography paper, negative holder, a paper safe box all in your hands as you turn the revolving door to go in, ready to print.

But the process begins much before that. It starts with developing a roll of film. Again, in complete darkness.

Part 1. Prepping the Film

Placing film on a stainless steel reel

The film is now wound back, and in the case it originally came in. You step in the dark room and open it, with a bottle opener.

You cutoff one extremity, careful to not cut off any images, and place the negative’s perforations in the center of the reel on two protruding parts. Like gear teeth. Then you carefully begin to re-roll the negative in the reel, making sure that it winds correctly in between the circular railings. Once that’s done, you put it back container and close the rubber, light proof lid.

Once you get the hang of it it becomes easier, like everything else.

But the process is important. Being in the dark forces you to be extremely organized.

On the table, the bottle opener is on the left, above that the reel and above that the empty container. On the right the scissors. And in the middle? The patient. The film.

If every time I had to change the location of the tools I would certainly end up wasting time, and possibly damaging the film.

Part 2. Processing the Film

Depending on the type of film, if it’s black and white, or color, or anything else, you have to follow a unique processing sequence. The developers, the fixer, the polish, and anything in between, must be put in that specific order. It is literally a science.

And each step along the way also has very detailed time associated to it. You pour the liquid potions in and out of the steel container in perfectly timed intervals, paying attention to the clock. 30 seconds of agitation, then 2 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds, for a total of 5 minutes. That’s just one example.

And finally, the moment of truth! You unwind the film, once again, off the reel, and hopefully the images are there.

The endless questions are answered. Was the film wound up correctly to start off with? Was it damaged while opening it? Was it rolled up in the reel correctly? Were the chemicals poured in the right sequence? And using the right time intervals?

Yes! Success! The images are all there. And that’s the scientific process to see if any of your art is actually worth keeping.

Part 3. The Darkroom

You’ve by now cut up the negatives and neatly put them in the sleeves. You can see miniature sized images and with the loupe, a magnifying glass of sorts, and pick which one to develop.

Black and white negative film in a sleeve

You enter the darkroom and head to the enlarger.

A black and white negative enlarger

Here the process continues to be vital. You place the lens first, then the negative holder, and then, only then, do you turn on the light. The lens and the enlarger help contain the light dispersion, which could ruin the photographic paper, or that of any one else that may be printing at that time.

So you’ve done all of that in the dark, if you’re in the color darkroom, or near dark if in the black and white one. And you are now ready to make your adjustments to the photo.

You pull the lever to move the enlarger up and down based on how large you want to photograph to be. Moving up means that the negative is further away, and therefore will cover a larger portion of the photographic paper. Contrarily, moving the negative down, closer to the paper will give you a smaller paper.

Finally, some creativity kicking in this world of step-by-step directions!

You have setup the photographic, light sensitive paper, to the right, beneath the plane. The paper safe box to the left, in case you have to move the print outside of the darkroom.

You keep the light on and make sure the photo is in focus by adjusting the previously mounted lens. You adjust the lens aperture to 5.6, or 8, or the desired amount. You set the timer.

You now have a visual copy of the photo you want to make. You see it. The mechanical pieces are all set up. Hopefully the stars are aligned as well.

You turn the light off. Take out the paper, which you know is on the right, and slide it into the speed easel.

You press the print button. The light turns on, burns the paper for the amount of time you set it to, and after those seconds have gone by you are left with, once again, a wish.

A wish that everything goes as planned.

Part 4. Developing the Paper

Remember all those scenes of trays, photos being dipped into liquids of some sort, and going through another process?

That’s it. The developing stage.

You set the paper, which is still white, in the first tray. And like magic, the photo appears.

And that’s when creativity takes over. It kicks in like a bad hangover. You don’t even know what happened. A whirlwind of emotions. Of expectations being met, and often times not. The excitement of having something worth looking at. And the honest truth of having instead just plain rubbish. Emotions. Creativity.

Part 5. The Creativity

I love processes. They are sequences of finely tuned gears turning and working with each other to put a vail of certainty around uncertainty. They work with logic, with reason. But they come after the creativity. They are needed to work in a pitch black environment. They are needed to give directions, to give step by step directions.

They do not though supersede that first click.

That one that we all enjoy to hear. The one that, is deceivingly Part 5, but that we all know is the preface to any Part. The process uplifts our creativity, not hinder it.

Let’s allow a clear sequence of songs to elevate the genius behind the music notes, not look for a sequence and play the notes around it, like with Pink Floyd.

And so here are some photos, taken with a Fujifilm Velvia 50 and Kodak Ektar 100, on my Minolta X700 at Eastern Market in Detroit, developed in the pitch black color darkroom, and subsequently scanned. Each negative having gone through the processes, bringing to life the creativity. Not the other way around.

Easter Market, Detroit, Sept 2017
Easter Market, Detroit, Sept 2017
Easter Market, Detroit, Nov 2017
Easter Market, Detroit, Nov 2017
Easter Market, Detroit, Nov 2017
Easter Market, Detroit, Nov 2017

Until Next Time,

Is it Super?