Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2007
Developing the Image
My first foray into photography was with a Rank Rangefinder camera & Kodachrome 25 slide film in 1970. My novice inability to use its simple but effective exposure system led to poor results. The ‘get it right first time’ demands of slide film & its slow speed did not deliver what I saw in the viewfinder.
This led me to experiment with monochrome film that I could process and print myself. I bought rolls of FP4 and a developing tank and began my chemical journey into the black & white world. Access to a darkroom at work provided nights of unbounded joy as the images appeared in the developing tray. That excitement at seeing the picture begin to take form before my eyes in the tray of chemicals is never to be forgotten.
From then on every house we lived in had an improvised darkroom, some more convenient than others. Evicting my daughter from her loft accommdation to fit the window blind, set up the enlarger and immerse myself in that red light was a Saturday ritual in our house for nearly ten years. Through several City & Guilds short courses I improved my technical skills to manage every step in the process from seeing the image to reproducing it in a black & white print. I also explored different subject matter – Portrait, documentary & constructed imagery which educated the eye in different ways. I also acquired a sort of colour blindness – some would say that I became a monochrome snob.
A higher income and better equipment tempted me into returning to the disciplines of slide photography. The legacy of learning from the black & white days began to pay off and I could now produce slides that, when projected, displayed the effect that I had pre-visualised when viewing the original subject. Prints, however were a hit & miss affair. At the mercy of the processing houses the results were often disappointingly bland and poorly colour balanced.
So here I sit in front of my computer – the electronic darkroom is far more convenient and a lot less hazardous to health than the toxicity of wet processing. And – here is the joy – it is no less exciting. The initial image is brought up on screen, a scan from a slide or a digital file from a memory card. Just as I would evaluate a negative in my monochrome days, I now read the raw image on screen and establish the activities required to deliver the print that I want.
Whether it is chemical grains or electronic pixels is irrelevant to the fundamental process of visualising the scene and then managing the processing stages to produce an image that successfully conveys the content and feeling to the viewer who sees the finished result. I still love to see the image develop as it rolls out of the printer.
© Keith Ratcliffe
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