November 17, 2016


Experimental self portrait in a makeshift studio. Printed at home on 5x7"  Ilford Pearl. November 2016.

"I am concerned with photography and since printing is fundamental to photography, it must be considered, but only as a craft. Printing is to photography what grammar is to literature. When I hear someone brag that they labored for three days in the darkroom to produce a print, my first impulse is to suspect them of being either a terribly incompetent printer or a totally inept photographer. I can't believe that any print is worth three days out of my life. People often make a mystique out of printing to compensate for lack of substance. 

I used to go to a gym and the guy who ran it had about five thousand dollars worth of photographic equipment. He would always say, 'Listen, what do you think of the Gazebo 17B and their f/4.18 lens?' And I'd say, 'What the hell are you talking about?' I never knew what he was talking about. But then I would ask, 'Well, Lenny, when was the last time you took a picture?' And he'd reply, 'Oh about two months ago.' And I'd say, 'What was it of?' He'd say he photographed a dog and then he'd bring in these prints of his dog. Somehow something got lost in the shuffle. Values got confused. This is a mistake that schools make also. You go to these schools and these kids all show you gorgeous prints of water running over pebbles. I'd rather see a not so gorgeous mistake of a brilliant idea, an idea that maybe the kid didn't even know how to solve technically. But who cares, because he's talking about something incredible. It's not the medium, it's the message for me.

Once upon a time I was a fanatic too. I would spend a lot of time on printing and get really hung up--do twenty prints of one negative trying to get some little corner right. Then somebody would come in and I'd say, 'Now here are twenty prints. Which one... can you see what I did?' And they couldn't see a thing. It would be this little blemish over here that had to be smoothed out. 

We all have to learn how to print. It's essential to photography. Take lots of pictures. Work in the darkroom. Print a hell of a lot and learn just by making mistakes. It's good to have somebody around who will lean over your shoulder and say, 'Listen, you should use a number four filter.' But essentially you just have to get into the darkroom and print. Once you learn how to make a gorgeous print, forget it and go on."

- Excerpt from Duane Michaels' 1977 essay titled 'Camera as Darkroom'. 


In July of 2011, I was walking east up Rue St. Viateur in Montreal's Mile End neighborhood (where I was living at the time) and came upon an outdoor book sale happening beside the St. Viateur Bagel shop. My hands found this old cloth-covered book titled 'Darkroom' compiled by Lustrum Press and I suppose I was drawn to it simply for the reason that it was jacket-less. I despise book jackets. It was summer and I was chomping at the bit to begin my Fine Art degree in Photography at Concordia that coming September. When I went inside to pay for the book which was marked $1.00, I didn't have anything smaller than a twenty in my wallet but the shopkeeper insisted I take it for nothing. I remember walking across the street to the Italian coffeeshop and reading until it grew dark.

Five years have past since I first discovered the book 'Darkroom' and I continue to go to it for guidance and inspiration. In retrospect, this book marks a funny beginning to my courtship with Photography. To say the least, I didn't last very long in my Photography program. Sometimes I wish I had pushed beyond my inner battle of wanting to say something meaningful through my work but feeling intense pressure to crank out meaningless, bracketed still life's in a city bursting with faces of incredible looking people I'd rather focus on. Sometimes I wish I had just done the damn boring technical work instead of abandoning it. But this old ram chose a different path. I bought myself my first darkroom in November of 2011 and got to work in my own way at my own pace. It all lead me to where I need to go.

Today I woke to a delightful message alerting me that I was not required to come in to work until one o'clock in the afternoon. I rose at 6:30 and enjoyed a strong pot of coffee while listening to an old Bon Iver album and observing the front parlor fill with morning light. The air and light have finally shifted in Winnipeg. That golden fall light is fading grey and soft. Winter is beginning to reach her icy little fingers around unsuspecting bare ankles in the mornings. It is an oddly relieving sensation after the freakishly warm temperatures we have been experiencing over the last few weeks in Winnipeg. Ahhh, there you are you old Devil, I think to myself as I run barefoot for my sheepskin slippers under the bed. 

Eventually I slunk down to the darkroom to get down to business. While all Margot Pollo photography shoots are complete for the time being, I now stand at the base of daunting Mount Print. Last night and again this morn I decided to begin with the most challenging of the lot: print contact sheets from two insanely dense rolls of 120 captured on Sunday of a beautiful woman. Once in a while, my pioneer tendencies cloud good judgement and such was the case on Sunday. Lessons learned: Do not experiment with fifty year old film during a professional shoot. Period. Do not process fifty year old film with Rodinal. Period. Do not push fifty year old 125 speed film to 3200 because your negatives will come out blank. Ding dong Maria. The most important lesson gleaned from my groovy experiment is to  ALWAYS process old film with same-temperature chemistry across the board. Developer, stop, fix and wash at the same temperature. Duly noted!

Miraculously, the 120 rolls came out despite my insane efforts to push HP4 400 to 3200 while using my tried and true ba-zoiling hot stop and fix method. All that said, the J-E-L-L-O jiggler-esque negatives eventually hardened enough to sleeve and print contact sheets. They were so GD slippery I could barely hang the damn things. The contact sheets alone needed 5+ minute exposures with number 5 filters. I can only imagine how long the prints will take. Harsh learning curve. Once those contact sheets were through, I moved into less intense territory and began printing from my travel, family and wedding photo cache all captured from August to present. Busy times. Baby's back in the saddle. It ain't all smooth sailing in this print factory. I reread Duane Michael's essay to bolster my courage before glugging developer onto those risky business rolls. As wise Michael's says, "Take lots of pictures. Work in the darkroom. Print a hell of a lot and learn just by making mistakes." 

Amen to that. 

My old Developer awaits me in the basement. Thanks for reading my one-track print ramblings, whomever you are!

xo Margot 

November 12, 2016

Up to the mark, or nothing

Motion study at Birdshill Park; October 2016. Photo thanks to IDP.

"Brahms conducted and composed for the Hamburg Ladies' Choir. According to Bella they rehearsed in the garden; Brahms climbed a tree and conducted from a branch. Bella adopted the choir's motto as her own: 'fix oder nix!' - 'up to the mark, or nothing'. I imagined Brahms carving a line into the bark".

- excerpt from page 137 of Anne Michaels' "Fugative Pieces".


I woke early this morn and listened to a Bob Dylan record in the front parlor. I moved down to the darkroom to work at the light table and chipped away at a mountain of negatives and slipped them into sleeves. I drank coffee and listened to Barna Howard and Ladies of Soul on tape. I thought about the present state of the world and I thought about the chores that need tending to. I thought about this strange, sad doozy of week and decided to move forward. Hi Marj, I miss you but I am doing well. Me and hundreds of others; we all miss you. I found some nice muslin and made a floral print from an old stencil for a new photography project. Now it is hanging on the line in the backyard and the house smells of spray paint.