(I printed this image manually in the darkroom using red wine.
Enlarger: No filter -- 30s 4 stops down
Developer: Red wine with sodium carbonate -- 2 hrs
Fixer: Ilford standard -- 5 mins)
In the dimness of the red darkroom light, I see dichotomous patterns of white and black. It could have been the trachea of the lungs, or the veins of a leaf, or the tributaries of a river. As the more stubborn stains of wine slip away, the photo paper reveals the image beneath. I see a faint image of a tree-branch, then a mass of shrubs, then the dark shadows on the road.
Transferring the photo paper into a “fixer” solution, I complete the photo printing process. With lights now switched on, I see the entire image—it is like no other print I previously developed. Most prominently, a red mist envelopes the scene, giving it a feel so dystopian it could have come from the telescreens in Nineteen Eighty-four.
This discovery did not come all of a sudden. For some time, I have suspected that red wine can develop prints. It contains flavenols, which may reduce silver ions in photo paper to silver atoms. But my previous attempts failed. The first time, I used baking soda (bicarbonate) to create an alkaline medium. But it was not a strong enough alkali. The second time, I heated bicarbonate in an oven to obtain carbonate, a much stronger alkali. But I developed for only thirty minutes. Only in the third time did everything come into place. Soaked in wine for two hours, the print developed. Finally, I managed to prove my hypothesis that red wine develops photo paper.
Among my adventures in the darkroom, red wine has been the most recent. Soon after my A-level exams, I taught myself the dying art of DIY photographic development. I started with standard Kodak developers, but I soon devised different methods. Admittedly, my pictures are hardly as flawless as commercial produce, and never as perfect as I imagine them to be. But In the darkroom, I never sought to reproduce a “perfect” picture. The final product never was as important as the journey. The imperfection of the developing process makes for an adventure, because I will always be surprised by new findings. Through trial-and-error and making guesses, I create my own picture, whose production process fulfills my curiosity and represents my approach to the world.
I am Ziren Wang, a student from Raffles Institution, Singapore. I picked up a camera in January 2009 in my school's photographic society, and I have never looked back. Years later, I have explored various different forms of photography, from event coverage, to fashion, to documentary, to photography using DIY lenses, and most recently, to film.