xmlns:fb='http://ogp.me/ns/fb#' Kate Farrall: Darkroom Mappings

Darkroom Mappings

The Darkroom Mappings series captured the light that exists in the photographer's dark room. Yes, the very place where walls are painted black and no windows are allowed is the place that I captured and recorded these image as photograms. Glow-in-the-dark arrows guide your movements and stars give you a place to rest your eyes while your image develops. I really like the idea of the darkroom exposing itself and "digesting" itself to create the final images. Once your eyes adjust, there's just so much to see.

An interview with me, by Jenny Rosenberg, about this body of work is below. It was created for SF Cameraworks' A Journal of  Photographic Arts publication that accompanied Agitate, an exhibition where the Darkroom Mappings series was exhibited.

The Chronicle's Kenneth Baker gave my work and the show a great review which you can read here. He also selected it as one of the Top 10 Exhibitions of 2003.


processor vent light

door light leak and phosphorescent floor remnant



light switch and timer installed
at SF Camerawork Agitate

floor vent installed
at SF Camerawork Agitate

door light leaks and phosphorescent glow installed
at SF Camerawork Agitate
Camerawork, A Journal of Photographic Arts
Spring/Summer 2003
Interview by Jenny Rosenberg

Jenny Rosenberg: Your new work is so fascinating, beautiful, and smart. It seems like a major shift in your work to switch from bringing the light sources for creating your photograms into the darkroom with you to using what you find inside the darkroom to make your images. How did you come upon the idea? Do you see it as a departure from past bodies of work, an extension of them, or both?

Kate Farrall: Thanks for your kind words about the work! They are much appreciated. Regarding your questions, yes, using existing light sources is a major shift in my work. I'd say that several things have inspired it. One would be the environment of the darkroom. In alternative photography, you sometimes sit in the darkroom with the lights off for a very long time exposing things, etc....  Eventually your eyes begin to adjust and you start to see light all around. I always enjoyed the irony that this place is called a darkroom but that there is so much light that the eye can see that it's hardly dark at all. It's like in the deep sea where they thought no life forms existed but now they know that it's a colorful, extremely fascinating place with its very own stories. I think the darkroom has a bit of that mystique to it as well.

Also, I liked the concept of folding the making process in on itself. The darkroom is a space used to make images, yet you don't normally see much residue of this environment in the final product. Another inspiration is an urge to pair down on all levels. Here, I can walk in with just a box of paper and that's almost all I need. Paring down is almost nonexistent in traditional photography. I have this basic need to be able to create art without it having to always cost a lot of money or need so many specialized pieces of equipment, which is often the case with photography. I like the idea of my making art anywhere by using the things around me. I don't need to be in my studio because my studio is nomadic. If I am somewhere and I need to make art, I can go to the closest grocery store and get some supplies. Anyone can do it. 

As for your second question, I see this body of work as both an extension of, and distinct departure from, past work. The photogram and use of phosphorescence would be uniting threads in the work, whereas the concepts behind the work have migrated and are in a new branch of thinking.

JR: Some constants I see in your new and past work are a blending of science and play, and a strong feeling that through the making of your work you are conducting experiments and collecting samples. Do you think that those are fair assessments of what you are doing? Are there other ways that you would describe your process?

KF: Yes, conducting experiments and collecting samples would be dead-on. I would also say that the experiments and sample collecting are a direct physical process. By this I mean that the movements of my body directly affect the paper, recording my movements through space and time lines of human energy intersecting with planes of light energy.

JR: I'm so intrigued by your comparison of what you have discovered in the darkroom to what has been found in the deep sea. If you were a researcher involved in those ocean explorations, you wouldn't be making the usual sorts of scientific documentation, though. I like to imagine you swimming alongside glowing fish, holding photo paper up to them and letting them be the makers of their own images.

KF: I've had fantasies that I could just turn out the lights in a deep-sea mobile and hold up the pieces of photo paper to the portal windows to grab a bit of the light. The lights that the deep-sea creatures can produce are amazing and would undoubtedly produce great results. It would capture a little bit of their energy as they move along their merry way. -I guess just like any photo-based work does.

JR: Part of what you seem to appreciate about the darkroom is the overlooked energy that makes it what it is. What are you trying to communicate by paring your photograms down to that essence?

KF: Paring it down...you cut away a lot of the unnecessary "fluff", things you just don't need; you begin to really be able to focus on not only the image but the surface of the image, which can be quite interesting... Yes, photo paper has a distinct surface and even depth to it that you can see in many of the photograms.

JR: What all does the "direct physical process" you mentioned for making the photograms entail? Obviously, your methods differ considerably from the standard photo practice of standing in front of an enlarger. How do you use your body to make the work?

KF: Well, when I create an image, it is more of a funky chicken dance in the darkroom. Okay, not always reminiscent of that specific dance, but funky, awkward movements are usually involved. Sometimes I have to hold long, uncomfortable poses to keep paper in place. Climbing up on chemical barrels, scaling walls, getting cozy with dusty darkroom floors are all part of the process. Often I draw with light and objects on the paper so there is a ton of gesturing with my hands. Once I find something I like, I may try to repeat the movement, but since I can only go on my movement memory and can't see what I'm doing there are always variations which I like. I guess the upshot is that I get my whole body involved. (before I leave this topic, I should give you the mental image of me holding fiber optics in my mouth while gesturing wildly with my hands to make an image).

JR: Within that process, how much are you able to anticipate, and how much is surprising?

KF: Nowadays, I can anticipate a good amount of what effects the light will have. But still, when I find new tools and techniques, there are plenty of surprises. I enjoy this aspect though. If I knew what everything would do, it wouldn't be as much fun. I also love getting the images that can never be done again the same way. Either because they would be really hard to reproduce from a human movement standpoint or because there was something totally unexpected that happened, like when a light source malfunctions only once. Also, I like the idea that I don't always have complete control, and it's welcomed.

JR: How has the experience of working in this manner changed how you look at light?

KF: It's changed the way I actually see light. It reminds me of stories that I've always heard: if you are a good photographer, you can walk into a light situation and know what the exposure is or what zone it's in. I can't say I can do that, but in my photogram world, I now have a good sense of what different light sources will produce and how long I will need to make exposures for.

I can give you a weird example of how I now can actually see light. A few months ago I was walking to my car after work by Lake Merritt. I felt like I started to notice that it was dimmer than it was suppose to be outside. It's a decent length of a walk so I had time to contemplate this, and I just couldn't figure why the light seemed so different. Later I found out that we had an eclipse and part of the sun was blocked so there was, in fact, less light. Maybe a lot of people noticed this without knowing that there was an eclipse going on but I think that after working in the way I do to make photograms, it has made me literally see my surrounding light and become more sensitive to it.

This interview was conducted via e-mail in January and February 2003.  
Jenny Rosenberg is an artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches photography and visual arts at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California. She received her MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she had the good fortune to have Kate Farrall as her graduate student mentor. She and Kate have been artistic colleagues and friends ever since.

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