Fifteen years ago, before digital cameras and the saturation of Photoshop, I developed film in a darkroom. I would spend hours wrist-deep in chemicals that stunk and liquids that stung, staring at negatives and perfecting prints through the mysterious art of dodging and burning.
I had a standing pass from my high school photography teacher that allowed me to use the school darkroom whenever I wanted. Inside was a small clock radio, the fake-wood paneled kind with numbers printed on tiles that flipped over as the minutes passed. The radio was tuned to a jazz station and no one ever thought to change it. I already enjoyed jazz but the darkroom radio affected a significant change on the way that I understood jazz and the way I approached photography.
The rhythm of jazz is unique. It doesn’t enjoy the head-bobbing thump of rock or hip-hop, it is missing the knee-slapping 1-2 beat of country. Jazz swings and swing is something else entirely. It is not a swagger, per se; swing is a loose and relaxed yet confident rhythm. Swing is all about truly feeling the music and letting that feeling guide you through the music.
With the radio in the darkroom playing jazz, I soon developed a style in the darkroom that was, if not the photographic equivalent of jazz, at least the child of its inspiration. I began to play with my photographs and experiment. I improvised. I worked exclusively in black and white. I allowed myself to go places in the moment. I thought deeply but quickly about the style and meaning of my work. I wanted so badly to capture the essence of jazz in my photography.
Today, I still listen to jazz when I am editing my photographs, but it is not the same. Digital editing, while miraculous, is less personal. I am not touching my photographs. I am not birthing them, pulling them from the chemicals, dripping and new. I have lost the swing. Perhaps I have discovered a refinement or matured, but I miss the freewheeling improvisation and carefree mistakes that I used to make. There was beauty in those errors and, yes, a bit of swagger.
by Ryan S./ CommonCreativ