Dark Silver: Portraits from the 8×10

Dark Silver: Portraits from the 8×10, is a new exhibition opening at Mastroianni Photography and Arts and showing throughout the winter of 2014-2015.

B&W 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.

Using the large view camera really makes apparent the physical and chemical process in image making. The sheer size of the lens, bellows, ground glass, and film makes one appreciate the journey that the light takes from subject to photo. The large, imperfect lens gathers and refracts the light reflected off of the subject. The light travels through the long bellows and focuses, upside down, on the ground glass, creating an eerie, ghost-like presence under the dark cloth. The film is loaded into the camera, and when the shutter opens, one can imagine the delicate scene igniting the thin layer of light sensitive silver, grains clumping, creating a secret, latent image. Then into the darkroom, where the film is carefully unloaded in total darkness, and bathed in a series of chemicals which develops the latent ghost into a hardened negative of silver on a transparent sheet, the bright faces dark, and dark hair clear. And finally the print, where the negative is projected onto paper not unlike the original film, to again expose the silver and create a new ghost to be developed and fixed into a positive rendition on a creamy white sheet of paper.

Sitting for the view camera is a commitment, both for the subject and the photographer. The camera itself is large and unwieldily, requiring a tripod and a dedicated space to set it up. The process of creating the exposure is as far from point and shoot as one can get; light is metered, focus is set, film is loaded, and shutter is released. Depending on the lighting, the exposures can be long, often several seconds, and the depth of field can be very shallow, often a few inches, so the subject must be perfectly still for the entire process. The materials—film, paper, chemistry—have become more rare and more expensive in the past decade, making every shot count. But it’s the slow, deliberate process which delivers the intense and decisive images.

Opening reception times:

December 12, 6-9PM

December 13, 10AM-1PM

January 9, 6-9PM

January 10, 10AM-1PM

February 13, 6-9PM

February 14, 10AM-1PM

A limited edition softcover catalog is now available for $19.99 here.

Mastroianni Photography and Arts is located in the Tremont neighborhood, at 2687 W. 14th St, Cleveland, OH 44113


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