I remember my father turning our bathroom in to a photographic darkroom, not really understanding what was happening, and not being allowed in. A few years later it was my turn to stand in the dark bathroom to transfer the film from the camera to the spool ready for developing the images, eyes wide open – as if that would help! At art college the group of us headed to the beach with the college stock of Pentax K1000s to photograph the fairground, and then returned to fumble our way through the same process. I loved the wet developing; watching the first signs of imagery appear, and then head to the corridor, blinking to the light, to check the exposure required for the ‘portfolio’ piece. I also enjoyed the more experimental side of printing. Photograms, multiple exposures and liquid emulsion kept me captivated during my college days and holidays back home-home meant the use of that bathroom darkroom.
Years later at the turn of this century I became Print and Photomedia Technician at Central Saint Martins, and then Lecturer in Visual Communication, with the territory of a darkroom. I lost count of how many students I introduced the idea of experimental photography too but one of my tricks was the Pin-hole camera. The students and I turned empty hot-chocolate tins from sweet smelling rubbish to state of the art cameras, and captured the sites of the Back Hill campus. The wonderment experienced by the students, mixed with the realisation that they had made a photograph without using a ‘camera’ was priceless. But why was the photograph upside-down? Why was it a negative?…. Some students took this far further than I had and became rather good at controlling the timings and light readings.
I spent hours leaning out of the window of my flat in Camberwell clutching my hot chocolate tins, photographing the street. It became clear I had attracted attention of the guy opposite who wondered what on earth I was doing! I had to save the exposed papers to develop in the middle of the night so as not to disturb my flatmate, and so the house was dark. At this time I was also experimenting with photograms, and I made a book titled ‘Totality’ about the solar and lunar eclipse that had occurred, and realising that by using light, and obstructing light to make the book, the very concept I was exploring was creating the book. Apart from ‘sun prints’ in the garden with my own children I haven’t had time to use a darkroom, ready-made or not, for a number of years.
I was reminded of the joy and simple elements of photography a few days ago. I was in bed, on holiday and happened to look up to find we had our very own camera obscura! Through the smallest gap in the blind was sufficient light to project the curve of distortion and the negative image of the view of the houses, window frames and all, at the end of the garden, on to the ceiling above us, in colour. The magic and the science of seeing was right there. Trying then to capture that image using a digital camera felt rather wrong. Where did I put that collection of drinking chocolate tins?