Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Safe Light

It's a faraway memory, nearly lost in the tide of zeroes and ones that shape our new digital world. Sometimes, though, I do remember the calming effect of a safe light: the soft red glow that spilled through the darkrooms of my adolescence. Years ago (decades now, I'm amazed to say), I pursued photography as a serious study. I didn't go far with it, never approached anything near a professional level, but I took it a tad farther than just a hobby. For a time. I was still in high school, and the darkroom was a comfortable place to be—hidden from sight, engaged in the act of creating something, seeing images develop from nothing. I remember the smell of chemicals, the eddy of the water bath, but most of all the light in darkness. Red is usually a stimulant—to passion, to action, to anger—and it's associated with all kinds of vice. In the darkroom, though, it was none of those things. I did not meditate when I was a teen. I had no informed opinion of meditation. Still, what I did in those hours standing in front of the enlarger, the trays of developer and fixer, was just that: meditate. My mind worked, and I observed its working, but I never over-thought anything in that space, and it was a relief to me. I remember especially being an unhappy girl on a medical leave from school, and my mother would take me to an art center in Norwalk, Connecticut, where there was a darkroom available for rent. I am not doing a very good job at identifying exactly what it was like, or really focusing on the memory. It is late now, and I need to be in a different sort of darkened room—one without light; one with only sleep. But I lost myself in that scarlet artist's space when I could, and no matter if there were others in the darkroom with me (sometimes yes, sometimes no), the safe light made me feel relaxed in a way that was like solitude. Peaceful and hypnotic.

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