Darkroom Darkness

Close the door and darkness, darkness darker than Stygian darkness. Blacker than Eli Jenkins Bible, blacker than the resting place of Chthulu. Black as the black of Agfa Record Rapid developed in Amidol (pray excuse my tears for this loss, which old photographers will understand). As black as Charbonnel Etching Ink (something I still have, and lots of copper plates and room for a new etching press). Black as the mind of Murdoch. A fine resonant black, that is until the coloured swirls of the eyelid moves start, a resonance from a not misspent enough youth

BlackAnd for doubters, not a single thread of gaffer’s tape to make it black

Only cloud is that I have discovered plastering and cornice cementing to be the stuff of divorce

Where To Next?

The new darkroom is almost ready, final touch up of paint and replacing the dry bench side

However, like how howbigglyever, the real question is where to next. During the months without a darkroom I have had time to think about where my work will go next. There is no longer a financial imperative to sell prints to Asian clients and I can do what I want, mainly growing vegetables. I have also been thinking about the bigger issue of the place of photography in this time. I first thought this internal debate was about the modernist/postmodernist transitional period I worked through and where my work will place itself in relation to that. But there are deeper concerns in my mind. Mainly do I want to do it at all, should I return to charcoal on paper, or to printmaking to explore things that engage me, or to grow the perfect savoy cabbage

I remember saying to a friend that there were only a handful of photographs still to be made by me, and that when I had made them all photography should, cease. All of it, everyone, no more photographs, no more photographers, stop!
Phoropter
I started photography as a way to explore those things and events that engaged me and I have returned to the same themes in a cyclic manner over the last forty five years. Each cycle treating the subject area a bit differently, like traveling along a spiral with different segments of the spiral being occupied by a different theme. I have always gone for large format clarity where possible as I have terrible eyesight and could see nothing at all until the day, when I was about seven years old, and I had my first phoropter experience. Until that moment I could see nothing. I love phoropters almost as much as the scent of a damp dog (another story)

Back to the present. My feelings about how photography is being used to show our world. Is it being shown honestly and need it be shown with photography at all? I am thinking of the rights of the subject and the responsibilities of the photographer to give respect to his subject

There are two workers who spring to mind with this thought, American Sally Mann and the Australian photographer Bill Henson. Mann’s work I enjoy for its quiet sensuality, but I share the doubts of so many other commentators, why did she, like the other Virginian photography Emmet Gowin, use 10×8″ for what appear to be family snapshots. Ten by Eight is very process oriented and there is no way it can be used quietly, so Mann’s children knew exactly what was going on and posed accordingly. Look at Sunday Funnies 1991 as an example. I have no problem with the making of these images for family use. What troubles me is their sale for world wide consumption for profit. I am reminded of the observation of Diane Neumaier on the wife-portraits of Steiglitz, Callahan and Gowin. “These awe-inspiring, beautiful photographs of women [read children] are extremely oppressive. They fit the old traditions of woman as possession . . . In this aesthetically veiled form of misogyny, the artist expects his wife to take off her clothing, then he photographs her naked . . . and after showing everybody the resulting pictures he gets famous . . . The subtle practice of capturing, exposing and exhibiting one’s wife is praised as sensitive”

Mann I understand to sit within the modernist tradition. Bill Henson is a different case altogether and is part of the Australian postmodernist movement which took off in the early 1980s. There was some real crap produced in this time, the worst of which is without doubt the cloying neo-Victorian pastiches of Anne Ferran. Back to Henson, it is not the portraits shown at Roslyn Oxley Gallery that the famous furore was about that trouble me. I see these as simple portraits of a young girl. I personally don’t like the oppressive gloom of the images, but the portraits are fine and the subject supported them and their making after she reached the age of majority, so the Braveheart woman can shut up. Where I take issue with Henson is the work shown at the Australian Pavilion during the 46th Venice Biennale 1995, wow, twenty years ago. The images are huge colour print assemblages made from cut sections of prints glued to a flat substrate. The individual prints have the same gloom that has marked Henson’s work for years. The result are large, shattered, dark, ominous landscapes with bits of rusty cars and brooding skies. Set into this ground and almost part of it are the bodies of young people some of which I remember as being smeared with stuff, but it is about eighteen years since I have seen the prints.

Photograph by Bill Henson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Bienalle 1995

Photograph by Bill Henson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Bienalle 1995

My issue is with the use of the people, the vulnerability of whom comes through very strongly in these images. Henson claimed he protected the models and was very secretive about the making of the works. But they trouble me, who are these people and why did he use them in this way? Questions, bloody questions and I don’t know the answers, but these are things to be sorted out before the next set of images of women

As well as the 10×8″ portrait work in the new studio, a co-building with the darkroom, I make the Leicasnaps this blog is mainly about. But I see the snaps as that, honest pix of friends, mainly Rae, and primarily for our use with possible use of some garden snaps in a mixed exhibition with the new still lifes I have planned

Time to take a break from these thoughts are there are real things to do, not with cameras, but with brushes, drills, saws and hammers and stuff, real stuff