Stained: Experiments of Our Youth

Everyone who wants to become a successful photographer will, at some point, break through the plateau of the learning curve and suddenly start to see more, shoot more, learn more, and experiment more. It’s a natural way that our brains help us accommodate the world around us, and an important way we keep from getting bored or stale with our crafts.

I made the original image that is the subject of this entry when I was in college, creating the dramatic lighting and grim expression in an effort to express my tortured artist teen angst, probably as a counterpoint to all the shallowness around me.

Stained: a darkroom experiment that can never be exactly reproduced.
Stained: a darkroom experiment that can never be exactly reproduced.

The image, I thought, was modestly successful. One night in the darkroom I was printing it. In those days, I often stayed up late to print, since it was the only time I could get the darkroom at the college to myself. I recall that after testing to get my exposure right, I exposed a sheet of 8×10 and slid it into the developer tray, but since I was tired due to the hour, I must have failed to completely immerse the paper in the developer. Upon treating it with fixer and turning the lights on, I discovered my mistake, the result of which was an undeveloped white streak on the corner of the paper that didn’t get immersed.

But then it dawned on me, like it must have dawned on many young, curious photographers in their darkrooms: I could use this to create something interesting. I thought about how to do this for a few minutes, then decided I would douse my fingers in developer, then allow the developer to drizzle from my fingers onto the exposed paper. I would watch as the image developed, then when I saw the effect I wanted, I would move the print to the fixer, where the parts of the print that didn’t get developed would stay white.

The image in the this entry is that effort.

I’m sure there are many ways to accomplish this in the digital age with software like Adobe Photoshop, but for me, in that era, there was a certain irreplaceable ambience of discovery that made this experiment a significant moment in my photographic life.