Dark Silver II: 12X is the second installment in the new series devoted to portraits made with traditional black & white film and processed in the darkroom. For the new set of portraits, a series of parameters were created to provide a framework for the portraits. Photographs were made in the studio with a twin lens reflex (TLR) medium format camera, under a similar lighting scheme utilizing continuous hot lights and a seamless backdrop, and each subject was limited to one roll of film (12 exposures). Then, an enlarged proof sheet was created in the darkroom from each roll of film, and each proof sheet is displayed as part of an installment of the entire set of portraits. As a result, each and every shot taken of each subject can be seen; nothing was edited out. Subjects were given a limited set of instructions for posing, and were then walked through a series of gestures or expressions. Some brought props or costumes, others simply brought their faces, and all of the subjects were volunteers for the project. I did not ask anyone directly to pose, they all reached out to me via social media after seeing my call for models. In this way, each subject brought their own expectations and willingness, as all were advised of the parameters. Both subject and photographer were bound by the same expectations and committed to use every single shot created. After I had enlisted and photographed 24 subjects, I ended the call for models and therefore had to use every single subject. I believe that process both informs and forms aesthetic, so defining a very strict process creates the style and substance of these particular portraits, as well as determining the overall style of the finished work. The deliberateness and commitment to 12 shots of 24 people, the lighting, the willingness and trust of the subjects, and the final layout and format of the giant proof sheets define the project. From the photographer’s point of view, the very idea of showing each and every image created is somewhat of an anathema. So the concept is even more of an issue of trust of my own self and skills than of the subject. The desire for control of the final image is contradicted by the commitment to reveal every shot.
12X is on view at Mastroianni Photography and Arts starting March 13 with an opening reception, as well as April 10 and May 8th from 6-9PM.
You can purchase the catalog featuring the full set of proof sheets here.
Watch the behind the scenes video by Antonia Mastroianni:
Dark Silver–the process: Black & white film and darkroom printing is a beautiful medium. The process is photo-chemical, which simply means that instead of activating an electronic switch (as with digital), light causes a chemical reaction which creates an image made of a thin layer of silver. Even after decades working in the darkroom, I still never tire of seeing that image slowly materialize on the paper under the amber glow of the safelight. Dark Silver refers to the nature of the medium, whereby light sensitive silver halides are converted into hardened clumps of dark, oxidized silver, forming the image.
While it’s easy to become enamored with the old time look of these photographs, using traditional black & white film and paper process is not about nostalgia or style, it’s about the process and the medium. I can recreate the “look” on a digital image with a couple of clicks in Photoshop, but it’s just artificial flavoring on a substitute product. Sitting for the photographer, creating the exposures, the characteristics of the lenses and cameras, the physicality of the film and paper, the real silver that makes the image—these are the things that make the photographs interesting and unique.