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The stuff of dreams

I have a page of links on my website entitled: Photographers You Should Know About.

It’s a list of friends, acquaintances, and people I’ve never met. All photographers, of course. The list could be longer, but at the moment, it is what it is.

I recently added the name of Raphael Shevelev. I came across him via a link on Facebook (by another photographer), and was particularly struck by his articles.  I’ve exchanged emails with him, and he is a gracious gentleman.  He gave me permission to reference his work.

Specifically, I recommend reading the article on creativity: The (Dis)Comfort of Creation.

In it, Shevelev begins by saying this:

“In the beginning we were given light and cameras and film, and we wandered around the Vale of Cameraclubville and made lovely images, and we saw that they were good. And on the seventh day we rested. On the morning of the eighth day we awoke, a little disturbed by our dreams, but, as they were only dreams, we dismissed them and went about our business of making more lovely images.

“The practice made us better and better; we became virtuosi, technically excellent. Yet our souls seemed somehow to get hungrier and hungrier, so we had fantasies, but we dismissed them for being only fantasies.

“We are the descendants of logicians and scientists, secure in the knowledge that advancement stems from the progression of associative thought, each step carefully constructed upon the foundation of all that has gone before, all that has been tested and proven and safe. The progress of the world, in science and in art, seems therefore to be a linear process drawing ever more expertise (virtuosity) from practitioners. It is, after all, only children and primitives who dream and fantasize, and weave those dreams and fantasies into the fabric of their daily lives.

“Not so!”

How not so? Read the whole article. It is enlightening.

I have made some lovely images. What I dream is different, however.

Just last week I went to my darkroom and printed a negative that is perfectly fine. It is exposed correctly, in focus, and technically correct in many objective ways. Subjectively, the composition is fine (if I may say so myself) and it makes a nice picture.

But it is intensely unsatisfying!


It required only skill and no creativity (except maybe for where to stand, as Ansel Adams once said). Even that could be argued to be skill based.

It’s hard to break away from what one has done all of their life, especially as an artist. I do not use that term lightly. Many photographers do not consider themselves artists. If so, then they likely are not artists. But I took a look at the body of work I have made over the last few decades and determined that I did not need to ever make those images again. Not that they were bad photographs, but I had been there, done that.

This was a while back, and since then, I’ve made many of those “same” images, including the negative I printed last week. While not needing to, I will still make them, because I will be in a place where that’s the photograph to make.

But the stuff of dreams (both sleeping and “day”) is much different. The problem is two-fold. Since I’ve come to the realization, I have been too busy with the same old types of images (making the book, for instance) to really be bold and creative. Also – and this is more important – I do not have the technical expertise to take the dream images and get them on film or onto a sensor. Well, not yet! That’s the scariest part.

I’ve done some experimenting, but nothing is ready for public consumption.

If one is going to be an artist, however, one has to make art. Even it it’s bad …

The best laid plans …

In my  post a few days ago, I went on and on about re-arranging the furniture in the darkroom. One of my points was that the enlargers now sat lower.

Well, that didn’t work out.

I spent part of yesterday making some proof prints. Nothing too strenuous, just some quick and dirty RC prints with negligible burning and dodging. I stopped not because I was finished, or tired of working (it happens); but my back started to feel the effects of bending over ever so slightly while making test strips or putting the paper in the easel.

The enlargers are back up to the height they were before, and I think the next printing session will be more comfortable.

There are conventions as to the height of certain things. If you’ve ever designed or remodeled, say, a kitchen, you’re probably familiar with the concept. Most tables and desks (in the US) are 28-30 inches high – 30 being the most common. This height is comfortable sitting in a standard chair (also made within a standard height range.) “Counter height” is 34-36 inches, leaning toward 36. This is the height of your kitchen counters.

I’m a big believer in having things at the correct height. I first came across this idea decades ago when a tall friend was having his house remodeled, and his bathroom sink was higher than “normal”. However, it was at the right height for him! Much more comfortable. Since I am of average height, standard dimensions work pretty well for me.

Darkroom sink stands are often manufactured so that the sink bottom is at table height. The front of the sinks is then at counter height and meshes up with any surrounding cabinets. This is similar to a kitchen sink. (No, really, go measure yours.) Having a sink bottom at 30 inches, or even a bit lower, makes it easier to do some things, such as filling up a large pot or jug with water, and then having to lift it out of the sink!

However, if a darkroom sink is used primarily for printing trays, then I want the height of the sink bottom, and therefore the trays, to be comfortable for me, which just happens to be counter height, or about 36 inches. So, when I bought a sink years ago, I made my own stand, so that the sink sits higher. It’s always been comfortable.

This is the first piece of advice I give when people ask about “secrets” in designing and constructing their darkroom. Be conscious of the height of your sinks. It will save your back in the long run.

The second sink (now that I have one after all these years) is at the standard height like a kitchen sink. It’s for mixing chemistry and cleaning, so it works fine. The print washer is also in this sink, so it’s easier to get paper in and out than it would be 6 inches higher.

Lowering the baseboard of the enlarger had the same effect on me as having to bend over to rock trays. It probably would not have been so obvious as quickly when I was younger, but I am not younger anymore. Anyway, it was a simple fix. I had the one stand (before all this moving around) jacked up with a set of those plastic bed risers, designed to add 5.5 inches (close enough) to anything with four legs. Another $5 set of those, and it’s all better.