This Week In Photography Books – Adam Bartos

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I don’t check email on the weekends. No FB or Twitter either. I don’t have to worry about who wants to “talk” to me in New York, or New England, or even New Mexico. (Sorry, Dad.) Furthermore, I’m off the clock from 5pm to 8am each day. Try it some time.

Our brains weren’t designed for 24/7 contact and communication. Not even remotely. Every time you get a nice email, or a complimentary comment, your brain drops some dopamine or seratonin. (Mmmm, yummy brain juice.) Conversely, each time someone bitches at you, drops one more deadline on your head, or inundates you with sarcasm, your mind rolls out the adrenaline and/or cortisol.

Either way, your chemistry is working overdrive, all day, every day. I can’t wait to see what the cumulative effect will be, as this has never before existed in human history. We’ve all become a bunch of glorified lab rats, looking up at an unkind Universe, waiting for our next sign. (Ping, ping, ping.)

It’s none of my business if you choose to listen to this advice. I’m sharing it, because that’s what I do. For the last ten months, I’ve been talking to you each week. You can tinker with your routine, or not. I was as addicted as anyone, before my wife enforced these rules. Now, I’m happier, saner, and more productive.

Photographers, in particular, were not intended for such a life. Pre-digital, back in the day, it would have seemed absurd to any decent lensperson to suggest they allow themselves to be interrupted, constantly, while trying to get some work done. Our workspace was sacred: The Darkroom.

In the end, my decision to walk away from my Duke degree, (and the great likelihood of financial security,) was an easy one. Up until my time in the photo department at UNM, I’d never worked hard at anything before. School came easy, as did certain aspects of sports. If I wasn’t good at something, that was that. The idea of practice was not yet embedded in my head. Then came the darkroom.

At 23, for the first time, I could and did spend 5, 6, 7 hours at a time slaving away. The quiet, the sickly-sweet chemical smell, the soothing safety light, together they seduced my latent work ethic. Previously lazy, the darkroom engendered a marriage between my passion and my patience. I took it as a good omen, and devoted my life to the craft. (Especially when a color darkroom opened up a block from my apartment in San Francisco. The photo gods can, in fact, be kind.)

Now, we live on our computers. We tell people how proud we are that our digi-prints finally look as good as gelatin silver. And the world will never be the same.

As such, I was fascinated by “Darkroom,” a new, over-sized monograph by Adam Bartos, recently published by steidldangin. (A partnership, I believe.) Rarely before have I seen someone produce a work of nostalgia, without the sentiment. The project is devoid of emotion, while clearly bowing at the temple of the past. Tough combination.

The book is immaculate; even the cover image is perfectly rendered. High class production values have certainly gotten my attention lately. (Take it for what it’s worth.) We obviously don’t all have the dollars to spend, but a few extra grand can do wonders in the right hands.

The premise of the book is straightforward: photos of lived-in darkrooms owned by American photographers. A peek at the thank you note in the back indicates that several of them are high profile, and a couple are even folks I know here in New Mexico. So it has an insider appeal, as well as being a super-well-crafted look at a part of our collective history.

Compositionally, the images are very formal. Shiny film rolls, lined up here and there, posters that were rarely seen, as so much work was done in the dark. It evokes Thomas Demand a bit, with it’s cold rigor, but that prevents the whole project from devolving into a treacly mess. Nicely done.

I’ve got to think that many of you would love this book. Whether as a reminder of your salad days getting a contact high off the fixer, or as a hint that it’s time to put down the f-cking iPhone. Either way, this one is a keeper.

Bottom line: A very well-made trip down memory lane

To purchase “Darkroom” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

There Are 4 Comments On This Article.

  1. MacCruiskeen

    “Now, we live on our computers.”

    What is this “we” stuff? Not all of us have been completely assimilated into the borg yet. Some of us still actually use our darkrooms. I don’t want to “live on my computer”.

    • It’s funny, but I was just talking about this yesterday with my father-in-law. He doesn’t use the Internet very much, and pretended not to know that it’s the dominant force on planet Earth. When pushed, he relented. Everyone knows what’s up.

      That said, it is valuable to be reminded how many people are still hard-at-work with the chemicals. Kudos.