A new project – working towards the LRPS with darkroom prints

I’ve been in the photographic doldrums recently, having only had one outing with the camera so far in 2019 (a trip to a snowbound cemetery with 35mm FP4+). Since injuring my knee just before Xmas, I haven’t been physically up to walking with a heavy backpack and tripod over rough ground, which my photographic perambulations usually involve. Neither have I been mentally motivated to make images – I knew that I could do some studio work (e.g. flowers or still life) without physical effort but couldn’t identify any subjects that I hadn’t already tried.

However, I have now set myself a project to work on which doesn’t require walking and isn’t weather dependent. I’ve decided to gather together a portfolio of darkroom prints for submission to the Royal Photographic Society for their Licentiate “distinction” (LRPS).

I’ve toyed with the idea of putting in for the LRPS for some while, but haven’t done much about it beyond creating a collection within Lightroom of possible images to go into the portfolio.

I’ve also been somewhat half-hearted in my darkroom efforts – I have a few sessions and then do nothing for a few months. Because of this lack of commitment, my darkroom prints have rarely been to the standard I’d like them to be. Whilst there are a few that have been good enough to frame and hang on the wall, they were a small percentage of the number of attempts.

Too many of my silver gelatin prints have had shortcomings such as:

  • ragged or uneven borders
  • marks due to chemical contamination
  • not enough account taken of “dry-down” so they look OK in the wash tray but are too dark once they have dried.
  • too much or too little contrast

So those prints usually ended up in a box which rarely gets opened for viewing – although if an image is going to be mounted and framed than a problem in the borders might be capable of being hidden by the mount.

If I’m going to produce prints for the LRPS panel, I know that I will have to keep perservering until those kinds of presentation flaws disappear. In this way, I will use the LRPS submission as a lever to force me to develop good printing habits and concentrate on getting perfect prints from a relatively small number of images, rather than mediocre prints from a larger group of images.

Of course, I could use other presentation routes to put together an LRPS panel. It is possible to submit a set of JPEGs, which could be scanned film images or digital originals, or I could stick with prints which can be commercially printed. I could produce inkjet prints at home, although my printer is nowhere near good enough to do that.

By choosing to produce my own darkroom prints, I’m probably not following the easiest route to get to an LRPS. However, the point is to give me a reason to concentrate on my darkroom printing and thereby improve my darkroom skills.

This process might well take a year or more to complete, but hopefully I’ll enjoy the journey and there’ll be an opportunity to generate a few blog articles along the way.

I’ve made a commitment in two ways – first by announcing my intentions publicly through this blog post, so that my immense readership will prod me into action if I flag behind … secondly a financial commitment by becoming an RPS member, which isn’t cheap. It is possible to postpone actually becoming an RPS member until the LRPS submission has been approved but I decided to take the risk instead.

For the LRPS panel, I need to submit ten images. To start with I’m going to be printing some of the selection below; I’ll make a final selection once I have the silver prints to view. I’ve made prints of most of them before, so I have some idea of things like the dodging and burning and paper contrast required. Hopefully, I might take some half-decent new images during the process, which will also become candidates for the panel.

I’ll keep you posted with my progress.

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