When a photograph is taken on an analogue camera, light is exposed to film. How much light is exposed depends essentially on two things: the shutter speed, which controls for what duration light is exposed, and the aperture, which controls the quantity of light let through the lens (of course the photographer must also consider the sensitivity of the particular film stock as well as artistic decisions such as the relationship between aperture and depth-of-field). When the light hits the film it reacts with its surface emulsion. If, however, you could make yourself very small and go inside the camera so as not to open it and spoil the film, and, if you could see in the dark, you would not actually see anything on the film that would indicate a photograph has just been taken; that is because, at this stage, what is known as a latent image has been created.
Next, in darkness (infrared is acceptable if we are dealing with black-and-white stock), the film is transferred to a kind of tank where it is processed through three stages of chemicals. The first is a developing agent which will make visible the image as a negative; the second stops the reaction of the first process; and the third is a fixing agent that will help preserve the film. The film is then washed and allowed to dry (usually it is hung since it is sticky when wet, as well as weighted so that it dries flat).
To make a print one follows a remarkably similar process. The camera is replaced by an enlarger, which is also the light source. There is a lens which should be focussed, and whose aperture should be determined. There is no physical shutter since exposure times can be thousands of times longer; instead, the duration of exposure is controlled by a switch or an exposure timer. And, instead of exposing onto film, beneath the lens is placed a sheet of photographic paper, similarly coated in light-sensitive material. The other essential differences are that the light source is contained within the enlarger as a bulb at the very top (although the exposure itself can be [deliberately] altered by external sources), and before being focused through the lens and hitting the paper below, the light passes through the negative. The paper is sensitive so likewise this process should occur in darkness (again, infrared is acceptable with black-and-white). The paper is also negative so that when the light passes through the “negative” film to hit the “negative” paper, a “positive” is created. However, again, this is a latent image (this can be seen clearly now). The paper is then processed through three stages of chemicals, usually in trays. The first is a developing agent probably a little different to that used for the film; the remaining two stages, “stop” and “fix” are the same chemicals as before. The print is then soaked in water (fibre-based papers take considerably longer to clean than resin-based).
The development of the print itself can be a moving experience. Over roughly the minute it takes to react with the chemicals, one watches an image seemingly materialise on a blank sheet of paper. The paper can be very large and the quality of the image surpasses the capabilities of the vast majority of digital cameras. It is an enchanting process. There is certain theatre involved with printing: it requires large, specialised equipment and bottles of chemicals poured out in trays; the room is dark, sometimes illuminated by a particular quality of red light and yet it could be sunny outside, the conditions of the darkroom constant irrespective of time of day; it is usually a solo activity, and it is often quiet such that one hears the mechanics of the exposure timer and the dripping of the taps, and sounds of the paper moving in the trays.
A single "ideal" print of a negative does not exist, though there are conventions when dealing with contrast or focus, for instance; a negative can be differently enlarged, differently exposed, but also subject to techniques like “dodging” and “burning”, where specific areas of the paper are either shielded from the light or exposed for longer. The process of making a print, as I have tried to describe it, is essentially that of taking another photo, with the fundamental difference that the light is filtered through a negative; yet, despite its formal similarity, the theatre of printing is an intimate experience.
The great master of black-and-white photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote extensively of “the decisive moment” that is at the heart of photography. I should like to frame this idea as a trope of time (as opposed to a trope of light which is really its material). What does it mean for photography to be “in time”? This question is, I feel, experienced vividly in the print-making process.
Having shot, developed and printed film regularly for a number of years I began to experience photography essentially as a repeated two-part structure. As a musician it amused me that the exposure was followed by a period of development, and I would joke to myself that the fixing was a kind of recapitulation—there being, of course, a rather notorious musical form to which this terminology is familiar... Drawn both to the materiality and theatre of the analogue photographic process, as well as the aesthetic of black-and-white photography, I began to consider how it could be in dialogue with my work in music and theory. What would it mean to “sound” the analogue photographic process?
In particular I had in mind the moment the image begins to materialise on paper as a moment of enchantment, and wondered how this intimacy could be shared. It is an intimacy not of exposure but of development. It occurred to me that the audience ought to be implicit in the exposure, and compelled into the development.
In June 2022 I received permission to transform the Art Rooms in King’s College, Cambridge, into a giant darkroom the audience could inhabit. Over the course of forty-five minutes an exposure was captured, developed, and then printed, all in full view of the audience who were able to walk around the room. When necessary for the integrity of the photographic materials, red lights, positioned around the room, were turned on and shutters were closed and sealed. I wrote some music for percussion, bass clarinet, and double bass, which mapped onto the physical structures of the analogue photographic process.
The music was conceived in essentially two parts and consisted of a kind of musical “exposure” which lasted about seven minutes (the minimum duration required practically throughout the various stages of the photographic process), and a musical “developing agent” which had two iterations and worked in combination with the exposure, effecting a kind of transformation. Additionally, the “exposition” was conceived such that it could work backwards, like a kind of musical negative. The expositions were recorded live (ideally on tape, reel-to-reel), as if “captured”, which meant they could then be played back on speakers (forward or in reverse) such that the addition of the “developing” music would constitute a six-part texture. The second exposition was the material of the first actually performed backwards, so sounding differently than it would by simply reversing a recording due to the nature of attack etc.; this itself was recorded and as the very last thing played back in reverse on speakers such it resembled the original exposition only the audience were actually hearing a negative recording of a performed negative: a processed and fixed positive, in other words. I appreciate this structure may be difficult to conceive in words; it took many months to work out, and may be best visualised in my sketches, which I referred to constantly (picture below).
Sketch of structure of Image. Back-to-front letters represent reversed musical material; “(r)” signifies the material is to be recorded live; “r” signifies the recorded material itself (ie. “a(r)” is the live performance of a which is recorded, whereas “rɒ+b1”is the reversed playback of the recorded "a" alongside the live performance of "b1").
The music is mostly low so it is competing with ambient speech only when it wants to assert itself. In the developing sections, which were always live, I left space for improvisation which complemented the dark, low, jazz aesthetic, but also meant there were fewer issues of synchronisation between rigid recording and strict composition, which can be difficult in practice, especially when people are walking about and talking. Having said that, a great deal of the compositional expression relies on precise synchronisations of harmonies—moments of resonance—which needed to be carefully rehearsed. There is no recording in full. Indeed, I am not sure how such an event could be recorded since that is rather the point of how it was conceived: on the one hand as a kind of "happening", and on the other a distinctly physical experience in which light and sound become tropes of time. However, a recording does exist from an early rehearsal, a trial recording of the opening exposure, as well as its manipulation in reverse. I was hesitant to include this—though I have—since it simply does not make sense without its theatre. So, too, have I included the score hesitantly (the recorded material to be played back is actually notated for ease of performance, so it is possible to see the full harmonies notwithstanding the absence of low levels of conversation which are factored into the composition). Certain moments, such as the construction of the six-part textures, and the ways in which the “exposure” was written such that it works backwards and in six-part texture with two different iterations of the “developing” music would reward close study, including moments such as the bass clarinet multiphonics at bars 169-173 and 582-586 which is a very particular gesture when live musicians animate its recorded playback. Such expressions are certainly not to be found in the recordings provided, and I think unlikely in the score since the entire musical structure synchronises with the physical, experienced photographic process as described above—the developing of the negative, the emergence of the image. As such, here I have tried to provide a description of the conception and performance of Image which I feel better represents the work to those who have not witnessed it (Image is also discussed in ‘The Sense of Disorder’).
We performed Image twice, back-to-back. I had set a simple exhibition of black-and-white photography on the walls in part to act as a distraction from small-talk (included below). I shot medium format, low-sensitivity black-and-white film so the exposure took almost a minute; this meant that the audience moving through the frame were captured as traces of movement, whereas the musicians in the frame were captured in more detail, and the structures of the room in exceptional clarity. At the end of the event this was presented to the audience, who could observe the “fixed” experience of which they were a part—pattern of light as a trope of time. I include a detail of the print created in the first performance below.
Detail of print created in the premiere of Image.
Exhibition from Image, which remained on display afterwards.
Click the icon below to view the score used in performance (this will open a PDF in a new tab).
Three extracts from rehearsal. In performance both "a" "ɒ" are recorded live to be played back over speakers alongside the live performance of "b1" and "b2", respectively.
"ra" from rehearsal (extract 1)
"ra" from rehearsal (extract 2)
"rɒ" from rehearsal (extract 3)