I had an unprecedented number of visitors yesterday, due to a mention of the previous post in Mike Johnston's esteemed blog-cum-water-cooler spot The Online Photographer. Thanks to those of you who left comments (and thanks to Mike -- it's nice to know that [some] people realise when I'm trying to be funny).
I should say to any new visitors who might choose to come by again that this is a photography-led but not photography-driven blog, in that I write about whatever I feel like writing about, which quite often has a photographic angle, but quite often doesn't. I couldn't care less about the cameras or lenses you use, and anyone referring to the latter metonymically* as "glass" will be banned.
I put a fair number of my own photographs up, simply because I like to, and very few of anyone else's because I believe in copyright. Sometimes I don't feel like writing anything at all, and just put up a few recent pictures. At least eleven people seem to have found this a congenial arrangement, and that's fine by me. Frankly, I don't think I have enough chairs for MJ's alleged 30K readers.
Anyway. I thought I'd return briefly to yesterday's subject of the darkroom, in a less satirical mood, and mention a couple of outstandingly interesting books. These were published way back in 1977 during the second Heroic Age of Photography by Ralph Gibson's Lustrum Press, and are entitled simply Darkroom and Darkroom 2. The format is simple but effective: leading photographers are asked to describe their darkroom activities and techniques, and they do exactly that. It's totally absorbing. I can't imagine anyone not being enlightened or entertained by Emmet Gowin's use of contour maps (who knew?), or Larry Clark describing "Walter Sheffer's formula for a dynamite developer" in this way: "you can see sheffer's a good poker player (that's aces over sixes) ."
Best of all, if you read these books with the (now admittedly antiquarian) attention they demand, you will get to bluff your way in any Golden Age of The Darkroom chat, without ever getting your fingers wet. The illustrations alone are worth buying the books for.
The Lustrum Press published another short series that is well worth looking out for, especially if you want to get the full flavour of that byegone era. These are the oddly named ":theory" books, of which "Landscape : Theory" and "Contact : Theory" are particularly worth seeking out. Same formula: leading photographers are asked to talk about what they do best i.e. make photographs. Don't be misled by the "theory" in the title -- in 1977 no-one yet really knew anything about theory in the scary sense-- it's simply an attention-grabbing title. For example, "Contact : Theory" asks how the chosen photographers made use of their contact sheets ("What's a contact sheet?") which -- at the time -- was a novel and almost outrageously intimate question. As someone once said, the real "decisive moment" was when Cartier-Bresson looked at his contact sheet, and decided which frames to print.
As to Ralph Gibson's own output under his own imprint, well... Extremely collectable, but simply not my cup of tea.
* Or is it synecdoche? I used to know all that stuff... You'll still be banned, whichever it is!