Once upon a time, the print was king in photography and photographers wouldn’t press the shutter without having a good idea of what darkroom work they were going to carry out on the negative, how the final print would look and how it would be presented. These days, however, far too many pictures just languish on hard drives and never see the light of day. At best, they may get posted on social media, where they will suffer from compression artefacts and may only ever be viewed on the screen of a smartphone – a few days after they are posted, no one will remember them.
Darkroom printing is not an easy process, as it involves working in semi-darkness (complete darkness if you print colour) with noxious chemicals, lots of trial and error and note-taking. It is not 100% repeatable; if you manage to create the perfect print from a negative, there is no guarantee that you could do so again. But despite this, people used to love doing it (a few still do) and just a few decades ago, most serious photography enthusiasts were busy in darkrooms – either their own, sometimes set up temporarily in a bathroom, or their camera club’s – producing prints of their favourite work.
The decline in the popularity of printing is ironic, given that printing is now more ...