In my bag this week No. 25: Darkroom stuff and printing ideas

Bowie coal train
A coal train winds around a bend in the North Fork Valley near the ghost town of Bowie, Colo. It takes more than half a day to load a standard coal train. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Earlier this week I brought home the first (small) load of probably many of darkroom supplies. I’ve been thinking about printing.

There are some stages every photographer goes through as they learn, practice, critique and apply new knowledge to their work. Some of them involve feeling despondent about the quality of their work, trepidatious about overcoming hurdles, or giddy about small successes. I’ve been through a lot of them and I’ve recently started to feel much more solid and confident about a lot of things.

My dad, the engineer, has described to me many times over the years the four stages of competence:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: You know so little you don’t even know how much you don’t know.
  2. Conscious incompetence: You know enough to know you don’t know much.
  3. Conscious competence: You know how much you know and you know a lot.
  4. Unconscious competence: You just know.

This is too simple to represent photography as a whole, but if you break photography into more granular subsets of skill such as exposure, composition, developing and so on, they apply a little better.

For me, exposure was always the killer. Hell, I’d been vaguely interested in photography for years before the exposure triangle ceased baffling me. Once it made sense to me, I started to progress more.

At this point I feel like I’m on stage three when it comes to exposure. It doesn’t come effortlessly to me, but I it’s been a while since I botched a frame more than a stop or two. Hell, I’ve even made some decent slides recently. In general I am quite capable of making a good exposure, and if I mess up, I usually know it soon enough to make a second, correct, exposure.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I’ve recently started to really feel like some of my best stuff is actually good enough someone else might care.

Look, I’m not saying I hate everything I’ve done up until now — but I do think a lot of my older ‘decent’ photographs leaned heavily on luck. I’m starting to feel much better about actually producing the negative I think I’ll get when I make an exposure, and starting to plan more and succeed more at making negatives that scan well and that, I think, will print well.

Maybe someone would actually like to buy one of my photographs. No, not a license to use it on their website (though I have sold a few of those), but an actual print, matted or even framed. Maybe my photographs are starting to really tell stories.

I’m not actually ready to share anything yet from my most recent work, though I know I’ve hinted that it involves the Eastern Plains of Colorado and my Pentax 6×7. It does feature both, and it’s the most cohesive body of work I’ve ever produced photographically.

For those reasons, I believe it’s time to develop a strategy to create and make available prints for sale.

I’m not sure yet about much of anything — matted? framed? coffee shops? art fairs? collections? singles? cards? posters? online? offline? — so I’m really just feeling things out. I’ve been considering strategies like uploading things to SmugMug or Fine Art America to offer for sale, or maybe just making prints and putting them up for sale on my site.

It’s a lot — a lot — to consider.

But down the road what I think I’d really like to be doing is making original prints in the darkroom and selling them.

Darkroom stuff Part 1
The first batch of darkroom stuff in the back of the Jeep. Trays, tongs, a thermometer, an ancient safe light and print washer, some paper and a contact printing easel. (Daniel J. Schneider)

To that end, I brought home some used darkroom equipment the other day from my friends at Englewood Camera:

  • Three 8×10 processing trays
  • One 11×14 tray I hope to use for washing
  • A vintage (possibly antique) 15W Yankee Safe-Lite
  • A vintage (possibly antique) DeHypo Turbulator Print Washer
  • A Paterson 8×10 contact proof printer (needs work, but glass looks good)
  • Two pairs of vintage plastic tongs
  • A Kaiser tray thermometer
  • A box of Ilford 8×10 paper

It’s not a lot, but it should let me start making contact sheets and start getting used to the beginnings of things.

I regularly invite my readers to comment on my articles, but this time I’d like to vociferously implore you to chime in below with your advice. If you have any thoughts about how to move these ideas forward, or opinions on whether I’m crazy or brilliant, I’d really like to hear them.

Main Avenue in Akron Colorado
The intersection of Main Avenue and West 1st Street in Akron, Colo. One of many recent stops during my travels on the Eastern Plains. (Daniel J. Schneider)