In a previous post, I listed the reasons why I built a homemade 8×10 camera. Aside from number one — Avoiding Pokemon Go — which was reason enough, was number six: The Element of “The Unexpected, so, like, art and stuff.” When you’re using a homemade camera and printing on 25 year old paper, you never truly know what you’re going to get.
I can only predict what this camera will produce to a certain extent… and that’s why I love it. Aside from the mystery surrounding the efficacy of the camera itself, I am continually wowed or discouraged by how this camera and the very, very expired paper interact.
Here’s how the “Unexpected” often begins… with frustration. The following has happened on several occasions: I make a portrait and walk in the darkroom to process a paper negative. As the image comes to life in the developer, I realize that the image is crap …. I convince myself it’s crap. I dislike something about the image and discard it. Often times, I dislike the print because the negative is underexposed or the lighting doesn’t fit the subject. So, out of frustration, unhappiness, or impatience, I will only partially fix the paper before turning on the lights and prepping for the subsequent portrait.
I barely examine the print before huffing, puffing, exiting, and modifying the lighting and/or exposure for a new frame.
Here’s where and when the unexpected turns to joy…
That print sits in the fixer or water bath, forgotten about between portraits… the darkroom lights repeat their pattern of off and on… and it sits. It waits.
Often times, at the end of the night, while cleaning up my mess, I’ll take a peak at the “crap” before tossing these forgotten prints in the trash. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised or haunted by the magic that unfolds among the discarded.