Last night was my second darkroom class (of the intermediate level), and though we had an assignment to under- or over-expose a roll of film so we could play with push/pull processing, I disregarded it (out of a lack of camera/interest) and simply came prepared to print my own photos, on my own paper (11×14″ matte fiber), to my own specifications.
I decided to continue to toy with the split-filtering technique we were introduced to in the last class, but I’m still a little clumsy around the enlargers, so after I made my test strips and chose my exposures (f/4, #00 8s, #5 12s) I accidentally forgot to engage the #5 filter, so the first two or so seconds of the what should have been the constrast-only exposure were completely unfiltered. I immediately exposed another paper correctly, and then developed them both at the same time.
The “happy accident” had a wonderfully dark and grainy sky, as a backdrop to the birds, shoes, and jump-rope on power lines (that you might recall from seeing the negative-scanned rendition at the top of A study of power lines and pigeons), whereas the sky in the intentionally exposed print was much lighter shade of gray, with less visible grain. It’s worth mentioning that this was a 3:2 vertical crop of a horizontal 35mm frame, so the negative was significantly enlarged beyond the size of the paper, further accentuating the film grain.
With these two exposures as points on a spectrum, I decided to try a third, to see what would happen if I increased the contrast (adding 4 seconds to the #5 filter) but left the highlights unchanged. I got my print into the fixer just before 8 o’clock, which is the cutoff time for fiber paper printing. (At that point, the amazing Photo Center staff wash and dry all the fiber prints, which take longer than RC paper because it’s plastic.)
It wasn’t until I got my prints out of the dryer just before 9 that I could accurately compare them. The first had that dark, dramatic sky, which I liked at first, but outside of the darkroom, it seemed a little too self-consciously dark. The more measured, subtle gray tones of the second exposure were growing on me, but the third had the best of both, with that darker, grainy sky, but a broader range of gray.
It was really satisfying to show Stephanie these things I made when I got home, using an analog process from start to finish. Up to now, my brief foray into film photography was really just a conceit—the chief end product was a scanned negative that I tweaked digitally and posted to my blog. But now that I’ve finally come full circle, printing a photo in the darkroom that I actually like, I feel like I’ve completed an important analog circle. Now I want to go back to the darkroom. I want to print another. I think I might go again tonight.