Eliza Stephens on photography and the darkroom
Eliza Stephens introduction to the darkroom was at university. “Now that I have my own darkroom, I have discovered things that I don’t know”.
By Christopher Osborne
“Question please 😊 How long does the developer last for paper”? was the question posed by Eliza Stephens in a UK Darkroom group on Facebook. I thought that it would be interesting to understand the darkroom journey of someone starting out in the darkroom and so I made contact with Eliza. Roll on a few days, and we are talking via Zoom.
Eliza Stephens is a British film editor, photographer, cookbook author and restaurateur. She is in the final year of a photography degree at the University of Suffolk. “My introduction to the darkroom was at university four years ago”, Eliza explains. “The technicians prepared everything for us. There were processing machines. Now that I have my own darkroom, I have discovered there are basic things that I do not know”.
“Loved, looking out for me” A photomontage depicting Eliza being looked on by her Mother, Father, and herself. This can either be interpreted as being viewed, or as not being good enough for the audience or as family looking after me.
“I had been working on film during my degree. I was shooting in both Black & White and in colour with a medium format camera. During the pandemic, continuing with film just became too hard. I switched back to digital and started working with photomontages created with Photoshop”.
“My own darkroom project began when a friend of mine sold all of her equipment. It has been built in a converted turkey shed at the bottom of the garden. I had always intended to use it as an artist’s studio, and now it has a small darkroom at one end. There is still enough room for a small portrait studio”, explains Eliza.
The former Turkey barn that now houses Eliza’s darkroom.
“I have watched endless YouTube videos on the darkroom. And as of three weeks ago suddenly I have a darkroom. I thought I had better use this”!
Eliza’s darkroom journey has had several ups and downs. “I used the wrong concentration of developer and fixer for the first two films I developed. The results were much better when I refixed the film. There was a blank section in the middle of one film. The camera was a charity box purchase. And I had been using a lot of expired film, some of which did not work so well”.
Eliza sounds very content as she explains what working in the darkroom feels like. “I love the darkroom. I find it a really meditative space. It slows me down”.
A re-created happy memory. Eliza “plays” the part of her friend’s Father.
The conversation moves onto Eliza’s own photography. She has been exploring photography and mental health. “Images are so powerful. Why do we believe them”? The question is rhetorical.
In one project, she worked with a friend whose father had passed away in the early days of covid. He was alone in a care home and died during the period when visits were not allowed. Eliza and her friend recreated a scene where they recreated a positive memory of Eliza’s friend dancing with her father. Eliza was dressed as her friend’s father for the re-enactment. “Photographs are like time machines”, explains Eliza. “They can take you to a different place. In this case a memory was replaced by another memory that was full of joy”.
Eliza’s Mother was a well known journalist and author. Her old keyboard was amongst the belongings that Eliza had kept.
“The work of Jo Spence has been helpful. She was a feminist radical photographer. She did a lot of work around her mother”, explains Eliza. “I have found phototherapy to be useful myself. I had hoarded my mother’s belongings for fifteen years. So, I made a project photographing her belongings hanging in the old Turkey barn. I found this to be a hugely therapeutic process. It was really helpful in coming to terms with my mother dying. I was able to let go of all this stuff”.
Eliza has kept her Mother’s posh frock.
I ask Eliza where she is going next. “I do not want to be a wedding photographer. I am going to spread the last year of my degree over two years. I enjoy the support network that the college offers. And then, who knows? Maybe I will go on to study for a PhD?
Images © Eliza Stephens 2022.
You might also be interested in a previous SilvergrainClassics article on “The Last Roll of APS”. https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2022/11/the-last-roll-of-aps/