The Light Farm, Volume 2, Beyond Basics (under construction)


"Spotting prints is the sock-darning part of the photographic process. No matter how often and well you clean negatives, there will be some dust, and this causes white spots on the prints that have to be filled in by minute daubing. Edward was extremely careful in his darkroom, but it was hardly an archival environment. Particles also got on negatives in the field, particularly in desert winds, as we pointed out in "What Is a Purist?" No photographer could avoid the "manipulation" of spotting...When Edward got through with a print, you'd do well to find two or three of the thirty or so spots he had filled."

Through Another Lens - My Years with Edward Weston, by Charis Wilson and Wendy Mader, North Point Press, 1998.

Since the beginning of photography, photographers have strived for perfection. Often, we've been willing to spend big money, on a regular basis, in the pursuit. When Ready-Load film came out it was hugely more expensive than a box of sheet film, but many photographers gladly paid the price to avoid the task of spotting. The race for perfection — usually defined by the newest or easiest — has been accepted almost without question as a positive thing. I don't disagree — in principle. Perfection is a wonderful, fully human goal. Unfortunately, with each technological advancement in photography, the definition of perfection morphed to follow. A few dust spots, or even a trace of spotting on a print, was soon deemed unacceptable in some circles. Since dust spots and the need to spot are all but unavoidable with film photography, digital photography was promoted and accepted as an easy path to perfection. And the technological hamster wheel started all over again.

I — and probably you, if you've read this far — want more from my photography, from my art, than machine-made technical perfection. I want to engage my hands as well as my heart and head. I want to slow down — to pursue my craft at my pace, with my choice of tools and materials. Mastery takes time. It also embraces the challenges.

Dust spots. Pinholes. Scratches. Static electricity sparks. Exposure mistakes. The wrong film for the light conditions. A misstep in the darkroom. The ways that chemical photography can go wrong are legion. And that's with commercial materials. Add in the foibles of d.i.y. and perfection becomes ours to define. Artisanship celebrates the 'hand of the maker'. This is as true for photography as it is for homemade bread or a handknit sweater.

That said, beautiful art is our goal — not burnt bread nor misshapen sweaters, and most certainly not endless frustration.

Troubleshooting is often treated as an afterthought. I don't think that's the right approach for us. Proactive troubleshooting is just plain good technique. With handmade anything, not the least silver gelatin emulsions, it's amazing all the things that can go wrong. Fortunately, in our case, most mistakes only happen once. Unfortunately, a few seem to repeat themselves out of sheer cussedness. A sense of humor helps!

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