Every once in awhile it's nice to go back to the beginning. To where it all began. To the reason we started making photographs in the first place. And for me, that place is the darkroom.
I stumbled into a black and white photography class my junior year of high school. Not as a person with a particular penchant for the arts, but rather a desperate attempt to avoid taking physics (or any class i deemed to involve "real work.") I had taken a graphic design class before, but my work at that point had consisted of nothing more than applying cool photoshop effects to stock images and abusing the magnetic lasso tool. Little did I know at that point the visual journey the next five years would take me on.
The first few weeks of the class were spent ruining entire rolls of film during the development process. Our darkroom wasn't safe enough for film development, so to develop the film we loaded in on to reels in light proof bags. Learning how to correctly load film was hard enough, doing it while effectively blind was a whole new level of difficulty. The first time I developed a completely clean roll of film will still go down as one of my biggest high school accomplishments.
One we graduated to making prints in the darkroom, days were spent meticulously calculating exposure using test strips while dancing around the other four students packed into the tiny darkroom. A single clock hung on the wall to clock exposure and development times, as well as count down the time remaining in the 90-minute block within which we'd be lucky to make two successful prints on a good day.
Towards the end of the class we learned about various darkroom techniques such as burning, dodging, solarizing, and double exposures. Finally having "mastered" the printing and development process, we were free to create, to explore, to play. A lot of the things I tried back then didn't work as well as I had hoped, and some fell victim to accidents in the process. I failed a lot in those days, and it sucked. It really did. But after I spent a week of class trying a new technique, processing the film, and slaving away in the darkroom, the feeling of seeing the image develop beautifully right before my eyes was incomparable to anything I've ever experienced.
When I think back to those days in the darkroom, I think about how often I failed, and I think about how good it felt when the print came out just right. I still fail a lot these days, but I succeed a hell of a lot more than I used to. As creatives it's something we live with. Ideate, iterate, and critique. It can bring you down sometimes, constantly nitpicking photographs wishing you had just done that one thing to make the shot perfect, but it's necessary. It's how we improve.
My advice for those of you out there who find themselves in a creative slump is too keep at it. Keep failing. Keep working. Keeping pushing yourself. Because the more you fail, the better you'll be.