Appreciating your unseen….
In the film days of old, I spent many hours of black and white photography darkroom work. I always found the process an amazing one as the unrecognizable negative image emerges over a few seconds into a positive image.
My first darkroom training was in 1978 with a local photographer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was kind enough to walk me through the techniques of film developing and printing. We took an exposed roll of black and white film, and, in complete darkness, opened the canister, threaded the film on a reel, and then went through the various chemical baths. After the film dried, the photographer took a random image, set it in the enlarger, and projected the negative image onto white photographic paper. The negative image was a person but otherwise unrecognizable to me.
However, as I placed the exposed paper into the developer bath, an image of my older brother, Marc, suddenly appeared. It was pure serendipity that the photographer had happened upon an event, took some pictures, one of which included my brother. I still remember the amazement of seeing an image of my brother appear magically in the developer bath. That unbelievable image was the first print of many for me.
It is difficult to examine a photographic negative and visualize the final positive of the image. I can evaluate a negative and judge the exposure for areas that are over or under exposed. Mentally though, it is difficult to process the negative image into its positive counterpart.
There is something disturbing about a photographic negative. Such images reverse our expectations and way of seeing. Light becomes dark and dark becomes light. For color images, the opposite color on the color wheel is portrayed. For a person, captured in a negative, is to transform that visible outward self to an opposite image. Such an image highlights parts of us not normally seen or emphasized. We may not recognize our selves or a sibling.
It is disconcerting to have our most recognizable features, our visible outward self, rendered to its tonal opposite. My light skin becomes dark. My friend’s dark skin becomes light. The alteration of our positive self into a negative format feels invasive, almost as if it is an x-ray that can suddenly reveal hidden details… an intrusive HIPAA violation of our privacy. Without that interplay, an image would only have areas of pure brightness or pure darkness, neither of which reveals any details.
Viewing our negative/opposite selves can be useful. I had an embarrassing self-realization moment as I reviewed the first draft of this post. All my words and imagery were from the perspective of a light-skin person. The examples and wording did not fully embrace a dark-skin person. That realization prompted a re-write. The re-write underscored the complexity of our self-image.
Our actual images are incomplete and lack substance without the balance and interplay between dark and light. That interplay is more easily appreciated when viewed in the negative opposite. The features emphasized in our inverted opposite becomes the inner frame upon which our outer positive projection is supported. In the study of the reversal of oneself, we have an opportunity to learn more about our self. It is an opportunity to appreciate parts of us we may overlook, ignore, or perhaps wish were not there. However, the inclusion of the negative image into our composite is foundational to who we are and how others view us.