Finding focus (a love letter to the darkroom)

Good evening internet,

First of all a huge and heartfelt thank you to everybody who got in touch with me in regards to my last post. I’m happy that some of what I was talking about fell on familiar ears (eyes?) and thankful to live in a time and a privileged position where I can post something from my head on the vast blank ether of the web and have people actually reach out to me with words and experiences. I was really quite touched and it was good to get it out there.

It’s been a while since I posted, again, and much longer than I would have liked. I did try and write a post 19 days ago but wasn’t feeling it when I read it back in my head and so abandoned it to the pile of unposted draftlets. Sometimes that happens and I think that’s ok. Generally speaking I have been less inclined to do anything with words recently and I am wondering if perhaps these things come in tides.  For the last month or two language has escaped me (kinda like I used up all my allocated writing in the middle of the year) - but in this instance I think it’s important to direct your energies somewhere they feel more easily applied, like eating, or walking, or sleeping, or thinking. These things are good too.

So, life.  November. It’s been a busy couple of months, as it always seems to be when I look back at time. I most recently helped Paul Fieldsend launch his first exhibition in my place of work Fieldwork Cafe, I turned twenty-five and had three days of non-stop food and booze and loveliness, I was fortunate enough to attend a Masterclass thanks to the Jill Todd Photo Award with Pradip Malde which was fascinating and inspiring and invaluable, we have welcomed new members to Fresh Focus, and throughout all this my bosses have launched a new venture selling carbs and cheese, but perhaps most importantly I was fortunate enough to take part in the Intro to Black and White course at Stills and have absolutely fallen in love with the process of black and white printing. It’s a beautiful thing, and a very welcome break from the ‘virtual’ world - with white light-sources vetoed to avoid fogging paper. The darkroom is a sacred phone-free space. 

And so, because I spent the whole day shut in the dark on my own and loved it, here’s something a bit different:

Finding focus

a love letter to the darkroom in a digital age 

Dear darkroom,

Deep black darkroom. Delicious inky box. I know I haven’t known you for long, and I feel in many ways we haven’t yet reached an understanding I trust we are destined for and capable of and bound to. Many know you better than I, almost all have known you longer than I, and many would scoff at my love; young and naïve. Let them scoff. 

There is little thus far in my life that I could say I revere as holy. I’ve never been much good at prayer. I tried a few times as a child, summoning my most urgent attempt somewhere around the millennium to let god know my budgie was sick, squeezing my eyes and my hands and believing it would reach him directly. Of course, I thought, he would jump to attention. Easy. My budgie died a few days later huddled in the corner of his tiny metal house, a stiff feathery lump that I barely looked up from my Gameboy to acknowledge when mum announced that ‘jimmy was dead’ (and so therefore, was god). 

These days time ticks by in an incessant barrage of information DING oh an Instagram follow VRR VRR you have achieved your daily step target BADABA BADABA two messages at once from a friend I need to speak to, but desire to see in the flesh. I see them all sure, but I swipe them away and forget to respond. There doesn’t seem to be much time for holy ideas, to me anyway, It’s a lot and it’s a little and it’s all the time information from waking to sleep and nowhere in these days and nights of  notification is there really any focus. 

But for you - delicious inky box. Together we are safe in the dark with the whisper of the tap and the hum of light through a lens. Soft humming, a few seconds at a time, like light’s thinking something over, like it’s mulling - and really I am mulling for finally an escape! There are images but they are gentle, they don’t nag or flash but instead need to be coaxed - woven from the magic of light and dust and paper and they are bathed in solution and given life. This must be a holy process, a slow baptism from potential to perceived. Finding focus, solitude, gorgeous winey black. We find a rhythm between light and liquid and I find space in this beautiful, tranquil dark. 

In the darkroom an image takes an hour, or two hours, or more. The impatience of finger-scrolling, media-surfing judgement bends to a process that feels at once perfect and unfamiliar. This is slow, this is soft, this is foolish. In many ways this is magic. I pull an image from the wash and hold it up to look. It is slippery and imperfect and if it were flesh it would cry.

And I know I see you right now in a romantic light quite unfair. I know too this cooing may be uncomfortable to witness and impossible to sustain. But I am unable to cast this roseate light onto my mobile phone and my tablet and my persistent love-hate with connectivity. Perhaps one day years from now somebody will discover this device and write to it too, and marvel at how things used to be birthed from fingers and keys and interactive glass and annoying pinging symbols reminding you are lonely but never alone. I don’t doubt it. 

For now, however, perhaps I should re-consider prayer - I shall squeeze my eyes and my hands tight to believe that in this future fuller still of lights and sounds and vibrations and finger-twitching madness, that there might maybe remain a gorgeous black box. A deep dark room. Delicious timeless red glow and shadow, incubating the future, warming the past. It is you, a looking glass - to find focus, to make magic, to look at what is created, and remember quiet. Easy.

Until next time. 



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