Light in the Dark(room)

Film photographers eschew digital for film in ‘Positive/Negative Space’ show

Nathaniel Welch works in The Art Studio’s darkroom as he prepares for “Positive/Negative Space,” an exhibition of photographs by the Darkroom Friends, opening March 4.

Positive/negative space are terms commonly used in image composition. They also perfectly frame the progress of what The Art Studio, Inc.’s Darkroom Friends have been trying to achieve after several years of hard work and passion.

The work of the photographers will be on display at TASI, March 4 through March 24.

A dozen photographers have been invited to participate in the show, including Darkroom Friends organizers Joe Winston and John Fulbright, and contributors Valerie Yaklin-Brown, Laura Burlton, Marilyn Tennissen, Brandon Thibodeaux, DJ Kava, Nathaniel Welch, Eric Adams, Gabriel Sellers, Jacob Garcia and Will Stark.

“The Darkroom friends have been promoting darkroom-based photography, and the creation and use of a community darkroom that we all share,” Winston said. “This show is the culmination of those efforts to create a gathering place for us to produce, and now exhibit, our work.”

Darkroom photography is creative work by hand, Winston said, and sometimes people don’t associate photography that way. The Darkroom Friends have a mission to preserve and educate people on the process for creating imagery that goes beyond painting or drawing.

Winston said people are going to see a lot of variety in the show.

“Photography is about a lot of different ways of image making, not just one thing,” he said. “Taking the digital aspect out of it is just one way — the artists are making art with a hand-crafted process. We all have digital cameras we use — we’re not in denial or living with our heads in the sand. We just want to keep these techniques alive.

“Film is not dead. I get that a lot. ‘They still make film?’ They still make film! I want people to see photography as a medium of fine arts that stands alone. One great things about the change in film photography is that with the demise came no responsibility for commercial industry. Relieved of commercial burden, people now can focus exclusively on making art.”

Gabe Sellers said his attraction to film follows the idea that its capabilities are so diverse it allows him to express his ideas in a variety of ways.

“I’m shooting, using older, basically antique-style cameras in large format and making large prints,” he said. “Film gives me a chance to experiment and gives me a chance to explore. This show and the Darkroom Friends gives me a chance to rediscover some ideas after taking a break from taking photos for a while.”

Triptych by Valerie Yaklin-Brown

This show and the concept of the Darkroom Friends coalesce around the concepts that positive space refers to the objects in the frame and negative space is the space between and around the objects in the frame. The Friends also encourage hands-on participation by guests making photograms.

“There is something about photography that attracts people,” Winston said. “It’s an amazing thing to take light, salt and silver, and create something that is going to last hundreds and hundreds of years possibly.”

The group’s passion for photography is evident.

“I’ve always been interested in the chemistry” Winston said. “I developed my first b&w image when I was 14 and my dad graciously gave me an old travel trailer that we converted into a darkroom.

“The chemical process, the alchemy — there’s something about it — and the stories about the old photographers just fascinated me. I’d always to tell my students, it’s a slow process. Anything can go wrong the with the hands-on process in the darkroom and this always creates a sense of anticipation.”

Sellers said the process is somewhat meditative.

Tightrope, by Laura Corley Burlton

“When I’m in the darkroom, I kind of tune out the rest of the world, because photography is imprecise, everything does not always turn out the same way,” he said. “The results are often different even when you think you’re doing things the same way.”

Winston said that several photographers will showcase work using very old techniques from the historical development of photography.

“I’m showing albumen prints, which involves eggs — it’s very imprecise and involves silver, salt, and egg white,” he said. “It’s very time consuming and expensive, but it’s the process that interests me.”

Albumen prints, also called albumen silver print,  were first commercially published in 1847 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and  they were the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the 20th century.

Darkroom classes are a part of the annual TASI ArtSkool held every summer, but special sessions or private lessons for individual or groups can be arranged. Winston said the group can tailor a class or lesson for just about anyone’s needs.

The Darkroom Friends does not have regular meeting times, but anyone interested may contact the group through their Facebook page, visiting www.artstudio. org, or call TASI at 409-838-5393.

The Studio is located at 720 Franklin, in downtown Beaumont.

Story by Stephan Malick, ISSUE staff writer

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