At least fifty percent of the image is done in the darkroom—I think Gene would say ninety percent. The negative has the image, but it can’t produce the image completely, as the photographer saw it—not as Gene saw it.
Ahh…the good old days of film photography, when all you had to do was click the shutter (insert sarcasm emoji). The above quote is from photographer James Karales (from a very interesting 2013 article by Sam Stephenson in The Paris Review). Famous for his stunning coverage of the Civil Rights Movement at Look magazine in the 1960s, Karales first found work as Smith’s darkroom assistant, fresh out of college. He goes on:
Gene always liked to get separations around people, figures, and that was always done with potassium ferrocyanide. It was the contrast that made the prints difficult. Gene saw the contrast with his eyes, but the negative wouldn’t capture it the same way. So he would have to bring the lamp down and burn, and then if that spilled too much exposure and made it too dark, you would lighten it with the ferrocyanide.
Patrick’s post got me thinking that the Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) philosophy is a modern phenomenon that seems to track closely with the growth in the number of people owning digital cameras. It’s most active adherents are people for whom any work in the “digital darkroom” is anathema. I think some of these SOOC adherents are amateur photographers who admire the photographic work of well-known photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothy Lange, etc. but may not know enough about these photographers to realise that they often spent just as much time in the darkroom using dodging and burning and other techniques to create their images. It seems to me many of these amateurs want the look of these famous photographers without any of work. I like Partick’s sarcastic phrase:
Ahh…the good old days of film photography, when all you had to do was click the shutter.
I sometimes like the JPEG images that are produced in-camera when using certain Fujifilm Simulations and recipes on my Fujifilm X-T2. However, I also know what emotion and story I want to tell with my images and sometimes the images the camera produces does not capture what my mind sees.
The image above of the Statue of Liberty is from a rainy weekday on a trip back from Ellis Island with my family. I wanted to capture the drama in the sky, and I felt that I could capture an image that matched how I was feeling about how the US treated early immigrants to the USA.
Quite often, these immigrants had abandoned their home and villages in Europe and under challenging circumstances arrived via crowded ships with just a few clothes and precious possessions. They had to answer a barrage of questions about their nationality, religion, finances, and endure humiliating mental and physical health exams. The sick were quarantined and many were refused entry. Some returned to their homeland. Some were so desperate for a chance at a better life that they attempted to swim against the currents of the Hudson River toward the New Jersey shore. Many drowned.
Between the play of the sun trying to force the dark clouds pouring rain on choppy waters of the Hudson and the people below, I imagined the anxiousness and despair of those early immigrants.
The original photograph, captured on my entry-level Nikon D40, was bland and had dust spots. I had to push and pull at it for a few hours in my digital darkroom to get what I wanted.
I think the post-processed image captures what I was feeling.
I’m in the process of getting back into film photography after a nearly 21-year hiatus after switching to digital. I’ve got rolls of Ektachrome, Ektar, Velvia and Scala to shoot with my Spotmatic II. I don’t have a dark room, nor do I want to use one at this time, so I’ll have very little control over my images after I push the shutter. My images will be scanned to digital so won’t be SOOC.
If you like the images your camera produces as-is, by all mean, I think you should continue doing so. But please, please, don’t assume that people that shoot and post-processing RAW images are
wasting their time or
wasting disk space or
can’t get it right in camera1.
- I hate that one the most. ↩