Often times, I come up with ethereal and abstract concepts for my artwork. However, I noticed that my techniques and skills in the darkroom did not match up to my artistic output. Which is such a shame. I wanted to do something about it. It is like having the urge to do a back flip but not having the progressed workouts to help you get there.
My name is Zain Al Khalifa, I use film photography as a base for my artwork. I like darkroom printing and I wanted to share an experience with you all, about the ease of setting up a darkroom and the importance of exploration/experimentation.
The Best Decision
I got myself an Intrepid Enlarger. Best decision. Great investment. I can now print at home. Even if I wanted to continue using higher quality equipment at my local darkroom, I'm now able to practice at home.... a bit like having a football at home and doing your kick ups?
As a result of the Intrepid Enlarger's portable nature, I was able to ship it with me on a residency. I had also brought along an ILFORD printing Starter Kit, where I set up in a bathroom as a makeshift darkroom. This was really simple, I used a thick fabric to cover light peaking through cracks and windows. Next, I needed a red LED light and a table. That was it. Honestly, I was a little concerned I'd be missing something. And yes, I was missing an easel - but really it wasn't such a big deal.
My intention during this residency was to simply practice different techniques to load my subconscious mind with them. To eventually conceptualize work based on what I know is possible. It's challenging to imagine beyond one's ability. "You don't know what you don't know..." is one of my new favourite quotes. I couldn't tell you where I heard it.
I'd recommend to anyone getting into darkroom printing to have their own equipment at home to practice techniques in their own time. This mean's you are not restricted to a time frame in a booked darkroom. In addition, the equipment is well priced and the ILFORD printing starter kit takes the hassle out of rounding up everything you need.
Darkroom Versus Camera
If you find that you are a little more abstract with your work and your photography feel's a little too straightforward and limiting. I would highly suggest to spend time exploring and experimenting with different techniques in the darkroom versus in the camera where you can't reverse mistakes easily. There are more avenues for abstraction.
A few tools I chose to play around with included clear sheets, a Posca marker, cutouts, coffee to create staining and my hands.
Through my experience, I found a style I absolutely loved. Projecting an ILFORD FP4+ negative up to 40 inches in height. The projected negative was extremely grainy. I found that the abstract image looked ethereal in that set up. I played with my hands making silhouettes along with a cutout. Sometimes moving my hands before the end of the print to get some colour into the spot I covered. Playing, making mistakes, and being really bored at times allowed me to get this far. The results I'm most happy with came in Day 9 of my residency. It helps to stick it out on the intention of technique exploration/experimentation.
What I would Like To Have Known
Other than the items I mentioned above, there are a few things I would’ve liked to know and I’d relay to you since you’re here:
- Access to running water with a deep sink helps.
- Ventilation is important. A little fan with a window or door you can crack open when you’re not printing. Some bathrooms have built in fans.
- The items are affordable especially if you use RC paper to start / experiment with.
- It is a slow process, be disciplined with your intention before entering as well as the result you’d like to achieve.
- I didn’t need an easel for experimentation.
- Share your work. Enthusiasm is contagious and when others appreciate even the simplest prints — it could be quite energizing.
- It can get quite lonely if you’re printing for days at a time — you could invite a friend. Their perspective of your work and rearrangement of photos could be interesting.
I hope I was able to shed some light on the affordability and simplicity involved in setting up a darkroom with the ILFORD printing starter kit and Intrepid Enlarger. It’s not that it’s so simple, but it can be, these companies make it easy and honestly, I’m quite thankful for it. I also hope, that if you’re a photographer that has found it challenging to implement more abstract concepts, that you’d experiment with different techniques more often than not now that you’d be printing at home and can afford that time to just play.
About The Author
Zain Al Khalifa
Zain Al Khalifa is a darkroom printing film photographer that likes to make images from existing images, adding new storylines, and recycling thoughts and words into a pot of photo paper. She is exploring themes of delusion in a playful manner — challenging the ‘mind’ as a compass for life. Adding humor to her work through her left handed (non dominant hand) notebook, where blurbs and epiphanies guide her concepts.
Some of Zain’s latest prints explore and break basic darkroom printing patterns, where she is able to tell more ethereal and abstract stories.