My time with Mariel at El Mirage Dry Lake Bed will be for another posting, for this deals with the process of printing her negatives earlier today. Earlier in the week we exchanged a few messages and got an idea of which images were to be selected according to our preferences. The image shown above was one such selection.
Before this negative was printed three others were processed, taking me to nearly 6:00 pm and a little later than my usual to print any more for the afternoon. Since I started a bit later today it seemed only right to print one more negative. I sat in front of the computer screen and went back and forth, finally selecting the negative shown printed above.
While most negatives are printed without cropping, something inside of me pushed me to crop this image considerably. Before doing so I checked the image sharpness with loupes and confirmed that such could be done without compromising the quality of the final product. The negative was placed in the negative holder, and the enlarger head was raised to achieve the proper image size.
A few minutes later it was clear that an exposure of nearly four minutes would be needed for this negative, complicated by the distance from the easel. In addition a considerable amount of burning would be necessary to calm the highlights down on the left cheek and forehead areas, adding almost three more minutes to the process. The chemicals had 'matured' nicely and would be different tomorrow morning, so I pressed on.
A little bit of dodging the background areas, burning the highlights on the skin, an overall exposure of seven minutes later produced an exquisite print by my standards of course. I decided to go ahead and print nine more for the evening, and made a quick snapshot of the final two prints right before they were removed from the fixer. At this moment they are washing for the next hour in an archival print washer, and will be laid on screens to dry overnight for viewing tomorrow morning.
Overall two hours were spent printing this negative, with ten prints to show for the effort. Many will wonder as to my reasons for using film, and the printing of that film in the darkroom. For the sake of clarification there are those performing much more complicated printing processes relating to photography to make my process seem so simple. The question usually arises in comparison to the digital process, and with this in mind the question is framed.
For me personally, I am in love with the process, the idea that the reflection from a person's skin moves through a series of glass elements, lands on a light sensitive film, processed to permanence through a chemical process, placed in an enlarger that acts as a camera in reverse depositing the negative image on a light sensitive paper, then processed to permanence through a similar chemical process to achieve a print that we will hold in our hands, and frame for those generations in the future to witness.
The details flow from one to another without steps, from one piece of grain to another. There is something magical about this, as my loupes show me every single time I view a negative prior to its printing in the darkroom. Soon Mariel will have this print in her hands, and we shall celebrate.
Halim Ina Photography