I have always liked the quote of the master printer Ansel Adams “Photography is like music, the negative is the score and the print is its performance”.
Every performance is different. That’s so true, the prints I do now I are often different from the ones I did a few years ago. Better technique, more experience perhaps, but more likely my mood and interpretation of the image has changed.
When I was starting my photographic practice I used to buy my ILFORD materials from the photo department of the Sunwin House Co-Operative store Bradford. It had the best stock of darkroom materials in the city. The man who ran it was an ex darkroom technician. He was always happy to advise and encourage me. He gave me some of the best darkroom advice I have ever had.
All good advice, which has served me well over the years.
Good printing always takes more time than you think. I still underestimate the time it might take to get a print that really sings, so now I block off full days to concentrate on printing.
I have always used ILFORD fibre based paper and chemicals I know how they are going to react and I know how to manipulate them to get the results I want.
I have used the same enlarger for 40 years a Devere 504 with an ILFORD multigrade head.
When I get a print exactly as I want it I‘ll print 4 or 5 more. After washing and drying there’s always one that’s not quite right, that one I will write notes on.
It's good practice and saves time and costly materials when printing a particularly tricky neg. It gives me a really informed base to start from. Any further changes and improvements to the print I then write on the original print.
Paint your darkroom white it makes such good sense it gives even and better illumination of the room. Also worktops are great if they can be white.
Try finding a negative dropped on a black worktop in a poorly illuminated darkroom it’s the recipe for a badly scratched negative as you fumble around trying to find it. It amazes me the number of colleges and universities I have taught in that still believe in painting their darkrooms black.
Printing to Music
Make your darkroom as comfortable as possible. I am very lucky as I have a dedicated space with central heating, a good sound system, my vinyl collection and a piano.
It takes one side of an album to produce one print. My archival print washer takes 24 prints so in a days printing I can listen to at least 8 of my favourite albums.
Ian Beesley is an award winning and internationally acclaimed artist and photographer. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including such venues as the Milan photo festival Italy, the International photography festival Shengyang, China, The National Media Museum, Bradford, the Peoples History Museum Manchester and the London international art fair.
His work is held in the collections of the National Media Museum Bradford, The Royal Photographic Society, The V & A, London, The Smithsonian Institute, Washington, the Imperial War Museum London, the National Museum of Labour, Helsinki, amongst many other important national collections.
He has published over 25 books.
In 2012 he was awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society.
He is currently artist in residence for the Bradford Institute for Health Research, Yorkshire Water and Gallery Oldham
In 2019 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bradford for his significant contribution to art and culture and the social and economic development of Bradford.
He recently retired as associate professor of photography at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
Posted on 29th January 2021
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