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Photos From a Dark Room in a Digital Age

Photographer Liam Gildea describes his work and process of using film to create.

Credit: Liam Gildea

In a society where most people snap and edit photos in seconds using smartphones, photographer Liam Gildea chooses to perfect the meticulous and rewarding art of film photography. Although some may consider this development archaic, Gildea creates new experiences and perspectives for his viewers while retaining the integrity of this quaint artistic process.

From his early high school years, Gildea loved photography. And since he grew up in New England, he often took photos of his environment – the sea and sunsets. Gildea learned about long exposure and night photography in his school’s photography club.

“Part of the reason I think I liked that (night photography) so much was because it was fun and kind of dangerous. My friend and I would set up our camera on a tripod and have it set for a long exposure. One of us would click the exposure button and the other would light a piece of steel wool on fire with a 9-volt battery and swing it around in a circle to get these cool light effects as the steel wool was flinging sparks everywhere. I feel like every modern photographer has gone through that stage.”

Liam Gildea
Triptych series using film Credit: Liam Gildea

By the time Gildea was a senior in high school, he wasn’t sure where his love of photography would lead until he discovered film. “I ended up finding my grandpa’s film camera in my basement,” Gildea continues, “It’s a Pentax Honeywell Spotmatic F. All I had to do was pop a new battery in her and a fresh roll of film, and she was ready to go. I’ve been using that camera ever since.”

Triptych series using film Credit: Liam Gildea

When Gildea found his grandfather’s camera, it opened a new element of photography and development that he had not previously known. When asked why he chose to shoot with film, Gildea responded, “I had become bored with shooting digital cameras . . . and I wanted to be different but also learn and photograph as people had before the digital era. It was also fun to receive my negatives and actually see the moments I captured.”

Gildea describes developing film in a dark room:

“Once I finish developing my film, I use the enlargers to print my photos in the darkroom. The paper we use is light-sensitive like film, so that’s why printing is also done in the dark. This is my favorite process and what takes so much time.”

Black and white photo using a Mamiya 645 Credit: Liam Gildea

He continues, “Once you’ve got a fully developed negative, you put it in the slot at the top of the enlarger. Every setting on the enlarger has to be calibrated to the size of the negative you are working with. When the negative is put in the slot, the image on the negative actually projects onto the area where you put your photo paper. From here, you can expose your image onto a piece of photo paper. After running the paper through a set of chemicals, the image appears.”

Gildea is currently working with “alternative processes.” He states, “I’ve been making photograms with the sodium chloride and silver chloride solutions – an early type of photography.”

Photogram using alternative process Credit: Liam Gildea

One of the subjects that inspire Gildea’s work includes human impact. He explains, “My main focus is how human beings impact the landscape and the ways in which we leave our mark on the areas we inhabit. I like to photograph things which capture the passage of time.” 

Gildea hopes his unique and creative work will evoke a sense of curiosity and wonder in his viewers. He says, “I do think about the people who may be looking at my images in 100 years. I want my work to stand out from the rest. When you see one of my images, I want people to say, ‘That’s Gildea.’ I want people to laugh with some of my work. I want people to take my work seriously and leave people wondering how I made it in the first place.”

Written By

M.A. Beckley is a reader, writer, and traveler - an expat with a lot of opinions. She is interested in anything relating to culture such as music, art, and history. She has taught English for eight years and is earning an MA in British Literature and Professional Writing.

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