Student Experience Blog

Photographic Chemistry, Tuberculosis and Mountain Passes

So it has been awhile since I have posted. Partially because there is not a lot happening day to day for me to write about. But finally, my conscience has caught up to me, so I am going to post.

I finally got my large format camera going again. For those who don't know, I use big cameras. I feel it makes me more legitimate. Also, my cameras are from at least 60 years ago.

I spent a few days making a few lenses. Yes, you can make them for the big cameras. After all, a camera is just a box with a lens and a sensitive medium (film or a digital sensor) on the other end. After making the lenses, I had to get my darkroom situation sorted. Well, the last darkroom (that I am aware of) in Kashmir was run by this place called Mahatta Studios. It is a 100-year old studio, which now sells Baskin Robbins ice cream, because nobody uses film anymore.

I ended up with a darkroom in my bathroom. I covered up the window with newspaper and put a towel under the door. My darkroom trays are buckets and mugs for bathing, and a cracked Tupperware bowl. I didn't have any glass bottles for chemicals, so I used old Coca-Cola bottles. My developer had oxidised (it was too old, and TSA had decided to open the bags to make sure it was not full of TNT). Thankfully, I still had a photocopy of an old chemical manual that Prof. Truska from the chemistry department had given me. So I made my own chemicals.

As an art major, I should have not been able to do any of this stuff, if it hadn't been for the people at the College. Jan Boles, a fantastic photographer who runs the archives, would be victim to my weekly talks which comprised of me asking him inane questions about photography. He also taught me a lot about the photographic process, lent me his 8x10 camera, and taught me a lot about photographic history, which came in useful when taking pictures in India.

Professors Truska and Saunders were the best during the school year. They would give me all kinds of chemicals I needed for my darkroom endeavours and talk to me about my process and how I could control it more. I am actually writing an email to Prof. Saunders about some improvements to the salted paper print process that I do.

Having such close contact with professors helps a lot, because I can branch out and learn nitty gritties about stuff. I did an independent study last year and would drop into departments as varied as anthropology, religion, chemistry, history and philosophy. This was for an art paper. I like the close contact I get at the College.

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As I write this, after a while (I have been lazy and am big on procrastination), I am sitting in a Jammu and Kashmir Fisheries Department hut in Kokernag, near Islamabad/Anantnag (the jury is still out on the nomenclature). Kokernag is a resort sort of a place, but not your usual resort. You see, until 50 years ago or so, tuberculosis was a big thing all over the world. You got the TB (or consumption, as the Victorians likes to call it), and you could consider your ticket to the next world punched.

What medical science could do was to send you to a nice place in the mountains. The list of TB victims is spectacular. Seriously. Camus, the Brontes, Bukowski, Gorki, Hammett, Heinlen, Kafka, Moliere, Orwell, Pope, Schiller, Pope. (And this is just the writers who died from TB listed on the Wikipidia page. There are like 500 odd more.) But I digress. So they would make the TB patients' lives easier. I am in such a place. It is actually really nice, and there is a trout hatchery right next door.

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I ended up not writing that night, and went to Sinthan Pass the next day. It is 13,000 feet high and I was there for 3 hours, buffeted by 40-50 mph winds and clouds at eye level. Not optimal photography conditions, but I got a keeper. See a panoramic version of the photograph above here

- Rahul Sharma

Rahul is a senior art major from Jammu, India.