Forgotten Art: Film Photography and the Darkroom

Words and film photography by Jacob Gralton

The original technique of developing and printing film photographs that some may think is dead, and the difference between today’s always improving digital photography.

Shooting film has always been cool. For me, the way film photography is done by hand and isn’t automatic makes it feel authentic. Instead of seeing an image a second later, you wait days or weeks to be able to see the photo, so you take your time with the film and every exposure. You understand that photography isn’t easy and wasn’t for many years.

When I first saw a demonstration in the darkroom, it was interesting to see how photography could be more physical. While being surrounded in a high-tech era where people are so quick to ditch the old techniques for something new and easier, I enjoyed how difficult the process was and how tangible photography became.

The darkroom process is a science. The photographer goes through countless steps before exposing the gelatin silver coated film, which they would bring to the darkroom for the photograph to become finished. The film is processed through several chemical washes, known as the developer, stop, and fix. The chemical washes react with the exposed film and after the 30-45 min process one gets their now visible image.

Over years of shooting film and processing it myself in the darkroom, I’ve learned how genuine this type of photography is and how distant it is to today’s cameras. When working in the darkroom, the routine involves hands-on experimentation rather than the left and right clicks of your mouse. Dodge, burn, bracket, and edit your images all with using actual light and your hands. You can manipulate film photographs by shooting double exposures, or in the darkroom by solarizing the prints. I believe that we haven’t yet fully figured out the darkroom and it’s necessary to keep using it. Many modern artists in fact still do shoot film, but I want people to become more familiar with it. Everyone can shoot on their iPhones and other cameras, but not everyone can create images in the darkroom. Technology advances at such a fast pace that people do not seem to care about the old ways of doing things. While our modern community is considered a “throw-away society”, film photography should not be apart of that. There are advantages to shooting film and whether developing it yourself or not, it’s imperative everyone tries it.

I’ve gotten into shooting digital for sports, media, and other purposes and with that I’ve come to like it as well because there is a lot that modern cameras can offer. They are quick, efficient, and can shoot a lot more than 24-36 exposures. That is why I see black and white film photography as art. Viewers can take a break from their color consumed world and think about the monotone image. Some may agree, but when I was a kid growing up in the 90s, I used to see black and white pictures and could not relate to it. I knew my parents could maybe understand it, but for me it looked like a different world. I couldn’t imagine a world of that sort when we are in an environment where everything tries to catch your eye. Black and white film is so intriguing to me because I can ask questions like: What does film photography mean in today’s different, non-stop, and saturated world? What does the picture represent while time moves on?

These photos were shot on large format and 35mm film cameras and hand developed in the darkroom.