Now where’s that photo with the, the, you know…

Even though there are many photographs to print, some are revealing themselves to be keepers right off the bat; others, ehhh, not so much. So the editing starts while I’m still printing. That should make things easier at the end, right? Not so fast, Bucko! Some become instant favorites while others are quickly relegated to orphan status. If they remain orphans at the end, I might be convinced to call in Sally Struthers for help.

If you’ve never been in a photographic darkroom, it is a place of miracle, wonderment, surprise, and frustration. Sort of like golf, but without the funny clothes. When printing an image, one doesn’t just make one print and that’s it. There is so much influence the photographer can have on the image, that the final realization of it may look entirely different from what was originally seen on the proof sheet.

The adjustments are innumerable. It can go lighter or darker all over; composition is always being fiddled with; one can make only specific areas lighter or darker; contrast is infinitely adjustable; developing techniques affect it strongly; and cropping can make it into an entirely different image altogether. With all that in mind, it doesn’t get printed once. It gets printed many times. All the generations printed of this image lead to the one that stands out; the one where you can’t see that it needs any further work. The differences between the last few generations might be miniscule and often are, but that little difference makes all the difference in the world.

It is not uncommon, rather it’s normal, to spend hours working on an image from just one negative. (The late W. Eugene Smith was known to work as long as a week on one negative!) Multiply that by 200+ images and it’ll be a wonder if I ever see daylight again. On the other hand, if I print at night, that problem is easily eliminated.

W. Eugene Smith in his darkroom. (

So, as preliminary editing begins, there’s always that moment (or moments), when looking through all those prints, you go, “Now where is that photo with the…”. Good times, good times.

This is what looking for that print is like, only cleaner. (the

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