The Imaginary of the Darkroom

Research project 2011-12
The Imaginary of the Darkroom: Interiority and the Aesthetics of the Secret
Supported by the Grants Program of the Shpilman Institute for Photography (The SIP).

As a space of specialist labour – be it professional or amateur – the darkroom has been a significant feature in photographic education and in the photographer’s self-portrayal. The changing methods of creative labour with the expansion of digital imaging technologies have made the darkroom practically irrelevant yet, at the same time, its imaginative potential remains a compelling one. Thus, the project’s critical drive is to give attention to the darkroom’s socio-technological history and phenomenological constitution precisely at a time when digitization is rendering it into obsolescence.

Ignaz Cassar | The Imaginary of the Darkroom

The methodological premise frames the darkroom as a space lacking a defined outside; this is so, as photographic manuals underscore, because its functional purpose – the production of a light-proof interior – is precipitated upon creating the adequate conditions of an inside. In attending to the darkroom’s structural bearings, the project seeks to direct critical attention to the affective regimes that the darkroom evokes and to reflect simultaneously on the psychical imaginaries that invest in its modality.

Considering photographers’ accounts of the photographic darkroom and its figuration in photographic representation, the research will be organized around two major axes of problematization: on the one hand, it explores the darkroom as a space that is geared towards precise technological procedures and pragmatic requirements of systematized labour; and, on the other, it considers the darkroom in its phenomenological dimensions and logics of enclosure through which it remains embedded within a genealogy of the ‘dark chamber’ as an aesthetic space of intimacy, secrecy and mystification.