9:30:17 19th Century-Style Photographic Prints

I'm taking a break from my community college darkroom class: Weekly classes were, with my self-imposed need to print new stuff every time, a pace too demanding. I needed a breather. The alternative of occasionally buying time at a nonprofit darkroom--which I've done in the past--disappeared with newspace.org's abrupt financial submarining a few months ago.

[chevy picture]

But all is not lost. My darkroom in the bathroom without enlarger, but with a timer and a 25-watt light source, makes fine contact sheets for a roll of film negatives. So I thought, What would individual contact prints look like for a negative larger than 35 mm, say, medium-format 120 film?

You can see the results to the left. A 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop taken on a neighborhood street in the St. Johns area of Portland. I think the results show promise. Of course, I'm limited to mini prints [2 1/4" square] from medium-format film--smaller prints from 35-mm negatives wouldn't offer much visible detail to enjoy.

But I think during this interregnum away from a full-fledged darkroom, I can keep exercising my photographic printing skills.

What got me to thinking about mini-prints were old photos in a family album, concidentally also taken with a vintage medium-format folder camera that's been passed on to me.

A number of prints--identified as from a professional film studio [Studer, S.A. Tex.]--were the same size as a medium-format negative! In other words, the final prints were made without an enlarger.

Indeed, contact prints, sans enlarger, were the standard way of doing things in the darkroom from the 1800s into the 1900s. Photographers also used film negatives as large as 8x10-inch. It was the adoption of the 35-mm format cameras [beginning with Oscar Barnack's Leica in the 1920s] that spurred using darkroom enlargers.

Enlargers, obviously, allowed larger photographic prints, larger to where they might rival traditional oil paintings in size [making them more artistic?].

Still for now, I'm happy making unenlarged contact prints. Doing so honors a photographic tradition that goes back to daguerrotypes of the 1800s. The clincher for me was that one of the master photographers of the last century, Edward Weston, always contact-printed. Of course, he used larger formats for his negatives than my 120 film. I suppose if I stay with this line of thinking I might look around for an inexpensive used 5x7 camera on eBay. But it's less the equipment and more, as the Greeks would say, the τεχνη ["art" or technique] that matters!

Image credit: the author

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Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection [and feel free to share with a friend] The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
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.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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