Photography and Alchemy

26 Oct

Photography has gone digital. Many photographs we like were taken with digital cameras. Still, we miss photographs made using film. Those days aren’t completely gone, but since every cell phone now has a built-in camera, there’s no question that digital is where it’s at.


It was alchemical …

We’re not Luddites – there’s a lot to like about digital photography. However, we remember taking a photography class before digital cameras.
developing tank and reels

tank and reels

Fumbling in total darkness, spooling the undeveloped negative onto the reel, and at last placing the reel into the light-proof metal tank seemed ritualistic to us. We felt like members of a secret cabal of image makers. Then came the the pouring-in and pouring-out of the developer, stop bath, and fixer. After rinsing the negatives and letting them dry, we at last had something to print.

Then the process would begin anew, only this time we had the luxury of a dim red light that wouldn’t fog the photo paper. After placing the negative in the enlarger, making the exposure onto the photo paper, and repeating the developer-stop bath-fixer-rinse cycle, we at last had an image. This seemed nothing short of alchemy to us.



“Oh, come on now,” you might say. “You’re romanticizing something that took a blasted long time and used a lot of water. Those chemicals were nasty – acetic acid, ammonium thiosulfate, and Gawd knows what else going down the drain. Nostalgic over this? We’re better off without it.”

To which we reply “You’re probably right. The immediacy of digital photography in the age of the Internet allows us to receive images from developing stories around the world, stories we simply would not have heard about years ago.”

That’s all true. It’s silly for us to think that photography was akin to alchemy. Except, that’s how we remember it …


One Response to “Photography and Alchemy”

  1. Milkbrain 26/10/2013 at 10:35 pm #

    Your insights here speak beautifully to these changing times. We do gain a great deal of ease, but must remember what is lost.

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