The first time I really took notice of a photograph was when I was about 8 or 9 and my Dad had taken a picture of my sister sitting on a tree. Looking at it, you could make out just what kind of person my sister is – prim and proper (even then – on a tree; aged 12 or 13) and always responsible.
I later found another one he had taken when we were much younger. This was also a posed photograph; not much scope for creativity – and yet, he managed to catch the little imp dancing in my eyes with the mischievous tilt of the head and the responsible, seriousness that always was my older sister (she has lightened up a lot in the last 5 years though). One glance at this picture and you knew which kid was the brat and which one the good child.
I think you get by now what I’m driving at. It always amazed me how just one static, two dimensional 5×8 frame could tell so much. Dad’s old Yashica range-finder was hallowed and we were never old enough or responsible enough to ever touch it! So I was thrilled when, in the second year of college we had a whole year devoted to the study of photography. This was when I discovered how to develop film, and began believing in Magic!
It kinda dragged in the beginning when we had to sit in class, look at the camera and learn the physics behind it when we were itching to load up and go clicking! Though appreciated a lot more now, it was with great delight that we finally abandoned our books to replace them with the third hand Pentax that the college loaned us. Armed with this and all the black n white film our allowances could buy, my classmates and I were off to make our pictures speak a thousand words.
The golden triangle, the rule of thirds, leading lines, depth of field, perspectives, everything we’d learnt so far had to be brought to life through that tiny viewfinder. Every curved corridor and staircase was photographed to death; every flower had its insides examined in great detail; every single arrangement of stationary, fruits, pretty glassware. Finally when all our rolls were exhausted, we were lead in groups of six to the dark room!
The boys were delighted at the opportunity to scare the living daylights out of the girls. The girls were apprehensive about wrecking their carefully manicured nails. I, being the most claustrophobic person I know, just wanted to get out! Not wanting to ruin the film and be made to start over again on a fresh one, I strained to remember everything I’d learnt on those boring afternoons at my desk. To my great surprise, I realized I actually had paid attention. The chemistry was taking over!
The only perfectly developed roll of film of my batch was my reward. The compliments of the faculty and the jealousy of the classmates helped me forget some of the claustrophobia and I was eager to get on with the printing process.
Suddenly you could cut the silence with a knife. As the photo paper was exposed and then immersed in the developing solution, there was not a sound in the room. It was as if the whole bunch of us had stopped breathing. And then it appeared. MAGIC!
I knew immediately that I was hooked for life. I don’t have my own dark room yet; I just hope they still sell B&W film when I do!
Recommended Reading DarkRoom Books and Tools on Amazon.com
This is a guest post written by Aarathi Edward, an avid photographer and media relations expert. She is totally in love with the film dark-room and has, at my behest, consented to share the magic that she experienced when first introduced to the gloomy, un-illuminated side of photography.
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Published: July 10, 2008 | Last Updated: January 5, 2021