The Death of the Darkroom.

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Am I a Luddite? Have i perhaps been too quick to rule out digital as an exciting and versatile medium of photography?

I’ve always loved the darkroom environment as a place to be. An almost claustrophobic deep silence that is only broken with the occasional chaos of first years printing franticly two days before a crit session, the tactile response of the paper as you watch your image begin to surface from the white into black. It is a deeply meditative experience. However, recent experiences have caused me to consider a new route through my masters degree, one in which digital would be the key player.

I’ve recently been troubled by this question for a number of reasons.

Firstly, cost. As of February 1st 2011, due to a large increase in the market price of silver, Ilford photographic have increased the prices of their paper by 20%. Meaning that a box that would have cost £70, now costs closer to £95 with the VAT increase. This was already an expensive paper before but now it is fast approaching unaffordable, not to mention that each large format negative (a singular photograph) costs anything from £1.75 for a sheet of black and white, all the way up to £3.20 a sheet for a colour (C41).

Secondly, Innovation. It has struck me more than ever during this project that while an expertly printed black and white or colour chemical print is still pretty special, working in digital allows for a much greater flexibility in how work is made and/or presented. From television screens to digital projectors, it rides the crest of the current technology wave. Chemical printing on the other hand has barely advanced in 120 years, with people still having petty arguments over whether you can put a colour image inside a black frame, or even if you can put black and white images with colour images.

However the reliability of the chemical process is not in question, a fibre based black and white print can last for 50+ years without any real damage providing the appropriate measures are taken. Digital on the other hand claims to be able to last 30 years, but since the technology hasn’t been around that long, it’s still a case of wait and see. Plus digital images can be easily replicated, used without permission or even stolen with a terrifying ease thanks to the internet. There is of course the problem of a ubiquitous hard drive failure, and who knows where technology will be in another 15 years?

So, I am left with an unpleasant decision to make. Should I continue my current practice, and risk becoming obsolete before my time? Or try a very uncertain, and very risky last minute shift into digital. Hmm.

The link below is to a video on the Guardian website. It features a photographers project about the decline in chemical darkrooms. ‘Tis Good.


Murder #2. Nicephore Niepce

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“So fickle a thing can a creation be. A champion of your virtues and endeavours of which you have come to rely. And yet, not without irony does it also become the mode of your decent. An old man to begin his studies, he was to surely not to live to see them fulfilled? A meagre slip on a wet floor or a strong hold would see to his demise. A searing burn in his eyes and nostrils as the pernicious chemicals fill them. Spluttering under a forceful grip, he fades. Here lies Nicephore Niepce!”

More referenced Works

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In each of the images that i am to create, there will (hopefully) be another work of art, a myth or an event that it references. I have already shown you examples of these references, such as my previous horror post and my Le Jetée post. But, here are a few more for you to consider.

Conversion on the way to Damascus, Caravaggio (1601).


The Assassination of Julius Caesar


Prometheus and his punishment from the gods.


The Cinematic trope of a woman tied to railways tracks.


Benjamin Franklin flying his kite during a storm.


The Oriel Window, Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot (1835).

Windows, Peter Greenaway (1973).

(Wouldn’t allow embedding, but it’s worth a look).

La Jetée

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La Jetée, for those of you who are unaware, is a film made in 1962 by Chris Marker. Made (almost) entirely from still photographs, it tells the story of a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic Paris, who is selected by the rulers of this new underground world for experimentation.

He meets the head scientist who reveals to him that the world is dying and there is no-one alive that can help them. But they have developed a way to travel through time, what they need is person with a strong mental connection to the past to avoid a loss of sanity, and they have selected him. He is troubled by a memory from his childhood, having seen a man being shot before a beautiful woman at the airport.

With the strength of this memory,  they manage to send him back in time to retrieve a source of medicine and food for the people of his time.

He however becomes attached to a woman he has met in the past, and when the scientists who sent him there have achieved their goals, they decide that he is expendable. He manages to escape however with help from the humans of the future, and return to his love, on the jetée at Orly airport in Paris. Then everything falls into place, the woman, the jetée and his end.

This film is one of my all time favourites, which i appreciate in photographic circles is perhaps a bit of a cliché as a film made from almost entirely still images, but to hell with it. Thanks to photography i can’t even enjoy Camera Lucida anymore.

Heres the film for those of you who haven’t seen it.

Murder #1. Hippolyte Bayard.

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“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that you have just seen, or the marvelous results of which you are going to see. To my knowledge this ingenious and indefatigable researcher has been working for about three years with his invention. The Academy, the King and all those who have seen his pictures, that he himself found imperfect; have admired them as you do at this moment. This has brought him much honor but has not yielded him a single farthing. The government, having given too much to M. Daguerre, has said it could do nothing for M. Bayard, and the unhappy man has drowned himself. Oh! The fickleness of human affairs! Artists, scholars, journalists were occupied with him for a long time, but here he has been at the morgue for several days, and no one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.”


Did Monty Python Kill Horror Cinema?

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I’ll level with you. I’ve never been a fan of horror films. I’m sure that they have their own merits and rewards for being an avid fan, but they were just not me. I think i can rationalise this by stating that i believe that the genre is unoriginal and has relied on shock tactics and gore since the days of Boris Karloff ended. Whats more is that contemporary horror films now simply rely on simply disturbing the audience, less gore, more gross. Their plots could simply be read out by a silver tongued orator in the cinema and have exactly the same effect. This would save people not only time and money, but the cinemas themselves could have a much higher turn over of customers, plus the films themselves would be very cheap to produce. Everyone wins.

(Well, he was Local…)


Horror, as a means to scare people rather than to simply freak them out as efficiently as you can, relies on suspense and the unexpected. To keep someone on tenterhooks to then throw something full force into their little world, something so alien and unnatural that they cannot help but be frightened at a primal level.



The above video demonstrates (though perhaps slightly crassly) that ever since the early Seventies, western society has been conditioned to effectively expect the unexpected. While it spawned a revolution in comedy, it did ultimately do the same to horror. While we still jump at a monster or nightmare catching us off guard, it has no where near the same long term effects.


Though of course there are always exceptions. And two of these exceptions shall (hopefully) become two of the referenced works in two deaths of the glorious 24.


The Death of Father Brennan, The Omen (1976).


The Unfortunate end of Jack Torrance, The Shining (1980).


The Omen and The Shining are two classics of cinema that transcend their genres and i enjoyed them both. Maybe i’ve been too quick to judge horror cinema as a whole. Maybe i’m bias as a militant Python fan. Or maybe i just don’t like being scared. Answers on a postcard.

Death List.

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So. Who has to die then? Well, as i’ve already mentioned there are twenty four Proto/Photographers on my hit list. This however represented a challenge for me, as each one needed to die in a different way and not only that, but it had to be in a manner that was possible in the 1840’s. Thinking up twenty four various ways to die is tricky to begin with let alone a historical constraint. So, this s my list so far. It’ll be subject to change as i still feel that it’s not 100% right and as you might see, number twenty three is still very much empty. Answers on a postcard please.

  1. Hippolyte Bayard – Drowning/Suicide.
  2. Fox Talbot – Defenestration.
  3. Clericus – Falling Object (From church roof).
  4. Nicephore Niepce – Breathing Poisonous Chemicals.
  5. John Hershel – House Fire.
  6. Friederike Wilhelmine Von Wunsch – Hit by a Train.
  7. J. B. Dumes – Beaten in a Bar Brawl.
  8. Hans Thoger Winther – Exposure.
  9. Friedrich Gerber – Strangled.
  10. Samuel F.B. Morse – Shot.
  11. Hercules Florence – Lost at Sea.
  12. Rev. J. B. Reade – Trampled by a Horse/Cow.
  13. Mungo Ponton – Buried Alive.
  14. Jean Louis Lassaigne – Dragged to Death.
  15. Verignon (Unknown) – Tied to a rock and disemboweled.
  16. Karl August von Steinheil – Food Poisoning.
  17. Desmarets (Unknown) – Decapitation.
  18. Breyer (Unknown) – Smothered.
  19. Franz von Kobell – Dissolved in Acid.
  20. Fyfe (Unknown) – Stabbed in the Back.
  21. Hoffmeister (Unknown) – Electrocuted.
  22. José Ramos Zapetti – Heat Stroke/Dehydration.
  23. Liepmann (Unknown) – ???
  24. Louis Daguerre – Executed by the state.

Where Am I?

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