I recently revisited some portrait work. Formerly printed as conventional black and white prints and exhibited i secretly always thought the images were missing something visually. Something that would help the pictures speak a little more to the content, to lives and hardships of those within them.
And so I started to play with some darkroom techniques that have been around for a very long time indeed. That of lith printing and having spent a not inconsiderable amount of time trying to get all these lith prints to look alike something suddenly dawned on me.
And that was why the hell do all photographs in a set need to be absolutely identical in style ? Especially portraits of people. In fact, I couldn’t think of something more charming than to render each individual as exactly that. A subtle uniqueness between images while maintaining a theme.
This is the magic of analogue photography that I fear so many digital shooters plain miss. The working out, the creative process and the totally hands on aspect of analogue activity that invites and allows such spaces as work through things with your hands. Touching the material, literally getting a feel for it.
If I’d have been working digitally, well firstly these images would not have looked like this at all as it’s not really achievable in the digital darkroom. You can’t really just go and find this style, it’s a genuine darkroom technique that I thought would suit the story. It’s a tool to help tell a story in a certain way. It can’t be copied digitally as the outcome is almost so ad hoc you really are throwing the dice every time you lith print an image and chance is a big factor on what comes out. Run same thing again and you will get a different result. Air and water temperature, humidity, chemical composition and those happy accidents and mistakes are what makes lith print darkroom work unique if you let it be.
The digital space does not allow that kind of freedom and experimentation. Simple. Ironically it closes down opportunity for experimentation even though technically many more things are possible. And that’s because the outcome, no matter how you slice it, is a binary code and so called perfection is possible. There is nothing organic about the process in the least. Nor is the much left to chance. And that’s because digital shooters don’t want to leave anything to chance, they lost their minerals. They simply have to see in real time what they’ve shot then peg off to the computer and make it look like every other photograph out there.
In the digital space these photo’s would have all been the same as each other. How do I know that ? Because they’ve been on my site looking that way for over 2 years after i scanned them and reworked them in photoshop that’s why. I did exactly what most others would have done instead of experimenting, playing and in turn diving deeper into a story artistically than you ever have done before.
So now I have a few imperfect, individual portraits that share a style, speak to the story they tell more fittingly while retaining the soul of the individuals in that story.
Each image is as unique as the sitter within it with no reduction to binary code in sight.