In addition to Mat’s photography, he has a wealth of knowledge in regards to traditional darkroom work and photographic chemistry and he offers to share that knowledge through classes and one-on-one workshops. Since I wanted to learn the basics of film development, but spend more time on the printing process, I decided to contact him regarding a one-on-one workshop. He enthusiastically created a two day workshop agenda spread over the course of two weekends. So, on September 29, I made a trip up to Findlay, Ohio and spent four hours in the darkroom learning from one of the youngest and talented working photographers today.
Mat’s enthusiasm for photography and the darkroom is contagious, which makes him a great teacher. We covered the basics of developing tanks, film reels and loading film for development. We quickly moved onto basic darkroom chemicals and actually developed the two rolls of 120 that I shot for “homework.” While waiting for the negatives to dry, we took a quick trip to see Leslie at Imagine That! After blowing an hour or so geeking out about cameras and film, we headed back to get working on the negatives. We cut and sleeved the negs, loaded them into a contact printer and printed contact sheets. We were now getting to the part of the process that I was really excited about - creating a silver gelatin print from a negative that I exposed and developed by my own hand. Even though the final product is the same (only in the sense of the word), scanning a negative and printing digitally is nothing compared to exposing a negative with an enlarger onto photographic paper and then watching the image appear before your eyes. It’s absolutely magical.
After evaluating the contact sheets, we chose three images to create working prints from. We used 8x10 Oriental RC paper and went about the enlarging process. The output ended at a total of five prints. Mat taught me the basics of dodging and burning and we used that short lesson to make a few adjustments. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see the image emerge after a short time in the developer. That feeling is taken to a whole new level after the print has been fixed, washed and dried and you’re holding it in your hands in daylight. To know that what you’re holding was hand-made and you had control of the entire process from exposure to finished product, is a great part of photography that is generally missed from the today’s typical photography work flow.
The second session was more of the same, but with much more time spent on final prints. I shot two more rolls of 120 for “homework” and then I attempted to load the film for the first time on the reels in the darkroom. It took a little while, but with a little help, I was finally able to develop the film. A little more practice on a dummy roll at home and I’ll have this process down in no time. After developing and waiting for the negatives to dry, we went through the working print process again. We made contact sheets, decided on two images and made some working prints. After evaluating those, it was time to enlarge them and make final prints on 16x20 fiber based paper.
Last time, I spent the majority of my time souping the prints in the chemistry as I watched Mat operate the enlarger. For these prints, running the enlarger was my job, so that I was comfortable with the entire process from enlarging to developing the test and final prints. I’ve already mentioned that Mat is a great teacher, but I can honestly say that I walked away from the two session workshop confident in my abilities to walk into another darkroom and start hand producing my work.
Watching these enlargements develop before my eyes was more exciting than the first session. I was staring at a large print that may be hanging in an exhibit or competition and it’s something that I made with my own two hands. The fiber based paper gives the print an entirely different feel and even though it’s a bit harder to work with (due to curling and longer development time), the finished product is more archival than RC and it just has a unique hand-made feel to it. After going through an archival washing process, we toned the images with selenium toner. This provided additional archival stability to the image as well as adding a little bit of punch to the final print (in terms of tonality).
Of the final two prints, I definitely have a favorite. I can’t stop admiring the beauty of the silver gelatin and I know that I’ll never tire of producing them. I want to send another thank you to Mat Marrash for giving up two weekend days to help me out in the darkroom. Mat’s a brilliant photographer and teacher and is very willing to pass along his knowledge and help others develop their photographic skills to achieve their photographic dreams. Besides that, Mat’s also a good guy that I consider a friend. I’m glad I decided to make the initial trip to the FPP Midwest Meetup for his first gallery show. If you’re interested in learning more about developing, printing, alternative processes or large format photography, Mat Marrash is your guy. I’ll be getting back into the darkroom soon, so I’ll be posting more work on this blog in the near future.