Sunday, December 14, 2008

More Basics

All week long I've been thinking about the photographer processing her very large prints in the darkroom when I was there last Sunday. I don't think I did her justice with my very brief description of the process. It had much the look of a ritual. She came out of the special projects area with a rolled tube of paper and carefully slid it into a tank of developer. The tank was maybe 48"x10"x10", just large enough to accommodate the paper roll. Once immersed, she loosened the roll and began pulling one end out of the tank, rolling it in the opposite direction now. When the roll was complete, she carefully lifted one end up and flipped the paper before re-immersing it in the developer. Again with the unrolling, re-rolling, flipping and re-immersing, at least three times before moving to the stop bath and fixer.

Altogether, she probably rolled and unrolled that paper seven or eight times, always careful not to kink or crease the paper. I used to describe handling 16"x20" prints as a wrestling match but it was nothing to the physical effort I saw in that darkroom last week. Which is why I think so many people do not recognize photography for the craft that it is. Aside from the vision necessary to frame and capture an image, printing a good photograph is no easy job. Even photos that are considerably smaller require thought, effort and care. If you've never spent time in a darkroom, you are not likely to know that.

Digital printing is a different process, done with different tools that, based on my limited experience, produces the same results. Ten years ago digital prints were clearly inferior to darkroom prints. No longer. So the only difference between the two is how the photographer gets to the print. That and the fact that digital print-makers can mix images far more easily in a single print with digital photography.

I'll probably be doing a bit of both in the coming years. I have far more ready access to photoshop and a computer than I do to a darkroom. But last week reminded me that I will always enjoy the physical experience of darkroom printing.


Winter Thoughts

Winter Solstice is coming to the Northwest with a real kick this year. Friday's weather forecast predicted a kick-ass winter storm to blast into western Washington. Turned out to track a bit farther north so we didn't get the predicted snow but we got strong winds, rain and freezing temperatures. The Friday Peace Vigil met as usual despite the rain and wind, with me trying out some new rain gear. My Veterans For Peace Flag snapped smartly in the stiff wind. The band didn't make it and only one of the "War" vigilers (they've been very scarce since the evenings turned dark) was out but Women in Black stood their silent vigil (under black umbrellas, natch). The perennial lone Justice for Palestine vigiler also stood on his regular corner. If standing vigil in Phoenix meant braving the blazing sun, in Olympia it means standing in the cold and wet which is ironically appropriate since that was my original experience of the area at Fort Lewis those many years ago.

The cold weather forecast seems to be right on, though. Yesterday barely reached 40 degrees; expected highs are below or barely above freezing for the next week. Last night we got a light dusting of snow. Early morning skies were partly cloudy and I got a brief look at that big (just past) full moon before dawn but now skies look like we'll get some of the predicted snow showers. Bare trees, icy winds, gray skies, darkness--that says winter to me. No wonder this is a season for bright lights and decoration. Mother Earth and Father Sky are so muted in look (but no way diminished in power) we feel a need to make our own celebration. I put up my red chili pepper lights and my Dalmatian lights yesterday and will hang enough decorations around the apartment to mark the occasion. That and warm liquids will be sufficient bulwark against the wintry conditions outside.

The State of Washingon finally called a halt to the Holiday War Circus at the Capitol (known locally as the Legislative Building). Everybody and their dog came out of the woodwork, demanding a place for their own statement or symbol of belief. Someone requested a Flying Spaghetti Monster display. (I had thought to just slip a plate of pasta by the creche but, like many of my ideas, that's as far as it got.) Officially, the state said it ran out of space and needs a more consistent policy. Unofficially, I'm hoping state officials recognize the folly of mixing religion and public spaces. We'll probably have a holiday tree next year, if only because Washington has a LOT of appropriately shaped and sized evergreens. If state officials are smart, it will be a thoroughly secularized shrubbery.

My holiday observance centers on the changing season, the disappearance and reappearance of light. For me the two solstice dates mark the eternal passage of time and life. I watch the skies for that same reason--because it shows me where I fit into the universe and cycle of life. I don't look for a God or salvation, only the joy and wonder at being alive, among friends and free from want. It is also a time to remember that much of the world does not share my good fortune and to re-commit myself to social and economic justice for all.

December also brings Vietnam to the forefront of my thoughts. Not that it's ever too far away but December has special meaning: it's the month I arrived In-Country. I left Travis Air Force Base on 14 December 1970 and stepped into the humid air at Bien Hoa Air Base just before dawn on the 16th. No experience in my life since then can match the hopelessness of the following days as I awaited orders from which the odds were no way in my favor. I've not had a Solstice/Christmas since without that memory. I used to resent the intrusion but now it's just a memory of a difficult time. I just live with it. If nothing else the memory reminds me that I am never likely to encounter that nadir of hopelessness again in my life and if I do, it will be nothing new. I can go a long way on that.

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