The Dark Room

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939), Doorknob, New York, from the portfolio Artifact, 1975Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), La Vicomtesse de Vaulchier, ca. 1930Eugène Atget, Paris Alleyway, ca. 1915  Weegee (American, b. Poland, 1899-1968), Blind Moon Dog at Monmarte [sic.] Bar, ca. 1958Mary Ellen Mark (American, b. 1941), Roy Cohn with American Flag, 1986   Gibson, Bow tie,Tails, 1973

As a space of intimate enclosure and vulnerable exposure, the photographic dark room operates like the modern technology of the closet out of which we are expected to emerge into clarity. The surveillance of light threatens to reduce us to what is visible on the surface. And yet the dark rooms of the wet lab and the closet are not just technologies of forced visibility. The dark room is also a fluid space of possibility. The chemical closet of the dark room would seem to hold the power to force out our confidences like a negative converted from immersion in a watery chemical bath into a hardened positive. But the dark room of turbulent development also exceeds these disciplinary functions.

When presented to us as if completely dry and hardened, we are encouraged to forget that the photograph is a permeable membrane already steeped with the residue of developing fluids. This watery remainder might remind us instead that the dark room’s volatile powers of development are not over once a photograph is taken and a photographic print is made. The dark room is also a material metaphor for the ways in which photographs continue to develop in the dynamics of encounter and may incite possibilities beyond their frames.

As its own dark room of porous contact and exchange, the photograph excites and transports. The dark room of the photograph is also the agent of flows that leak outward. Like the trace of touch on a susceptible surface, our interactions in this dark room of the photograph reshape the subjects of our close looking. This contact also has the potential to seep into our pores and alter us.

The Dark Room, installation shot © 2015 Natalie Kirk

The Dark Room, installation shot © 2015 Natalie Kirk

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