There was a time when developing your own film was not only a badge of honour, it was seen as a skill of creativity; instantly making whoever masters it into the cool one! In that vain I have dabbled in University with film development using the dark room, it was a place of solitude appreciating photography as an art form. Much like a painter taking the time to soak in all the creativity that goes into a master piece. It also had an element of surprise in seeing the pictures show up for the first time (this has since been robbed from us by the digital camera age).
Dark rooms were never imposing, they were always hidden, and there were plenty of makeshift dark rooms (some in vans) that made it accessible to all. But I haven’t seen one in years – I have made half hazard attempts to try developing again but its quiet the effort – and extra cost – compared to the manufactured affordability of digital cell phone cameras today.
Cell phone cameras, as hard as they try, can never replace DSLR cameras. Instant gratification has its benefits but it cannot replace the inevitable quiet creativity within the walls of a darkroom. T is however making less apparent and the individual photo developing skills that full on photographers have are slowly fading into the history books. With manual photo processing, you can manipulate pictures in a way that allows for a unique artistic look– granted, digital filters are slowly catching up there as well. Are we standing by while another art form to dies out quietly? Along with it, we will miss the solitude dark rooms that not only nurture but force an element of creativity and individual expression that made photography a standalone art form in its own right.
What do you guys think?
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Thanks for the post. It is definitely true that film labs are becoming scarce. I personally think that it’s important to preserve and learn a skill that is dying off. Film development is one of the skills going extinct. To that end I’ve improvised and photo lab (only for processing film) at my home. It was a costly effort to undertake. Getting the equipment which would make my work most convenient was a journey of many years. Maintaining a stock of chemical needed for processing film is also a continuing expense, although much less than having to send my film to the lab every time. The satisfaction of seeing a film roll emerge from the developing tank with actual images is something priceless. It’s like opening a Christmas gift every single time.
I’ve been fortunate to have the means and the space to be able to setup the lab at home but not everyone has that luxury. I did start out with developing film at a camera store in Berkeley CA which lets you rent out their lab facility to develop your film. They have everything you need to do processing as well as making prints with an enlarger. But since I’m doing everything at home now I haven’t gone back to rent their lab anymore, which makes me sad a little. I do get all my chemistry from them still which is good.
I think in general there’s a healthy resurgence of film photography and there is a lot of people doing it, which is making film manufacturers stay in business like Ilford. I also see Kodak bringing back their P3200 film after having discontinued it. I am optimistic that the practice will survive if not thrive. If it doesn’t experience a downturn again hopefully I have everything I need to be a solo player, buying film in bulk and rolling it myself, and then processing it and scanning it myself after which I post it on Flickr for family and friends to enjoy. Maybe I’ll inspire others along the way.
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I certainly hope that you do inspire more people to take on this artform. Really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and very eye opening on the challenges of keeping this diminishing process going in what must seem like a lonely journey.
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