I went back to the darkroom. I’d had feedback from two tutors and some peers that it would be worth trying the photograms a bit bigger. Fortunately, the dark room owner was very positive about this, which is what made the work possible as going from 12×16 to 16×20 required setting up with larger trays, more chemicals and a modification to the washing tank to accommodate the larger paper. He had also ordered paper so that I could use what I needed and pay per sheet, and he would have plenty left to do some larger prints of his own.
Over time, this work has become increasingly simple. I ditched the microscope slide style border in favour of larger glass. I ditched the bows and trimmings in favour of empty space. This week, I ditched the glass entirely; embracing the risk and opportunity presented by bra cups sitting proud of the paper rather than squished, mammogram style, under a glass plate (this was another feedback suggestion). The logistics of cleaning and placing an 18x22inch glass plate in the dark did help with this decision. I used guide marks on the enlarger table to ensure that all of the paper was exposed. I made an embarrassing number of test strips, working with small apertures to provide longer exposures (the paper works better with exposures of longer than 10 seconds) and boosted magenta filters to increase the contrast – important with the finer fabrics. I laboured to get the blackest blacks I could. I’m happy with the result. I think the next step would be to even up the positioning slightly so there is equal space left and right… and there’s a tiny white spot on each print in the same place, I think because of a speck of something on the enlarger lens. I could spot it out with watercolour, or I could, and probably will, accept that it’s an indication both of the hand-made nature of each print and my newfound skill in accurately positioning each sheet of paper in the dark. Unexpectedly, after quite so many darkroom sessions, I feel increasingly at ease with the process and it was good to see my “hit rate” increasing. Howard – the darkroom owner – commented that the images would work well on gloss paper as this would add a shiny, reflective quality to the blacks. I am inclined to agree, but the satin finish provides a very velvety matt black and is better suited to assessment requirement.
The images have space to breathe – the underwear really does seem to be floating in space or deep under water. The blacker blacks play a part here. The extra three-dimension-ness is engaging too – one peer said it looked like you could lift the garment straight off the paper. I am considering making a much tighter edit – these prints are big – perhaps just 2-4 images. I need to live with them for a little while and think on what would work. For the moment I am enjoying the unusual feeling of work that feels balanced on the seesaw of what I would want it to be versus what it actually is.
I will add photographs when the quality of daylight improves. In the meantime here are some phone images.