In the darkroom with Sean O’ Connell

oconnell_sean_ripple torus discharge_small

In The Darkroom Series is a closer look at the craft in collaboration with some of my favourite photographers and artists. The series aims to demystify the fine art printing process and provide the technical detail of the body of work – Chris Reid

Artist statement

Forms of Energy builds upon the research undertaken during my doctoral degree at Sydney College of the Arts, 2012-2016. This work explores the tendency of knowledge and perception to favour edges and surfaces, and proposes that alternate modes of perception allow us to access hidden qualities of materials and forms, and reveal deeper relations and connections to the surrounding environment.


Using camera-less direct film techniques, high voltage electrophotonic imaging, reflected laser vibrational imaging, slow-motion 16mm moving film, paired mirror stereoscope images, and planar light cross-sectional photographs, this exhibition documents three simple physical experiments looking at the nature of material and form. These three experiments are the slow-motion filming of hollow metal boxes colliding in mid air, the tracking of smoke vortices in space through traditional and experimental techniques, and the imaging of spark discharges from the surfaces of sculpted forms direct onto film and through stereoscopic macro pairs. Through presenting these experiments in multiple forms of documentation, a range of visual qualities and impressions are built up of each event, favouring not just the usual traditional image of reflected light, but also experimental forms of documentation that reveal hidden flows of force and the internal structure of materials.


This body of work is part of a larger study that questions the nature of thought and vision to create simple world views built primarily through the surface of things.  The traditional role of photography, of capturing light reflected off the surface of objects and people, is challenged through this work. This is done so as to present alternatives and rich field of possibility, rather than to supplant any dominant ideology with a new paradigm. The ability of photography to present multiple perspectives is championed and extended, across a broad range of processes.

The Process

Firstly I had to covert Sean’s negatives into positives by making contact positives (a negative in contact with another sheet of film, thus creating a positive). I used graphic arts film for this process also know as “Line film”. This gave us the most contrast which was needed for Sean’s prints.

Once Sean had signed off on the positives we started the printing process. All the negatives were 10”/8” and all on Fomapan 200 I believe. We made the 30”/42” prints on the FB neutral tone matte surface (112) which complimented the high contrast images. Glossy would have been over the top with an extenuated contrast range.

With Sean in the darkroom with me for guidance (and he also gets to experience the process for more appreciation of the work required) we began the printing. After cutting the roll paper to size, I placed it onto an extended baseboard and held in place with magnets attached to metal set squares.

Prints were exposed between grades 3 – 4 for maximum tonality through the mid-tones. The paper was then processed in the following sequence:

#1 Developed in Fomatol P at 1:1 (5 litres) for 5 minutes. The prints are rolled through the chemistry in troughs. Fresh developer is used for each new image, approx. every 4 -5 pieces of paper.
#2  A brief wash in the water (helps remove the bulk of the developer), then the prints are rolled through the stop bath for 2 minutes. If I do not give a brief pre-wash, then the stop bath becomes exhausted very quickly.
#3 Fixed in Fomafix Liquid at 1:4 for 2 minutes.
#4 Brief wash for 3 minutes.
#5 Placed in a holding tank for about 1 hour before being laid flat onto cotton towels to dry

After viewing the prints Sean chose two from each image as finals. These prints then received the following process:

#6 Print are Hypo Cleared for 5 minutes.
#7 Wash number 1 for 5 minutes.
#8 Selenium toned to completion for about 6 – 8 minutes at 1:5 (strong).
#9 Prints receive another wash for 5 minutes.
#10 Then into the Hypo Clearing Bath for 5 minutes.
#11 Into the final wash for 60 minutes with intermitted agitation.

Check out Sean’s work at the exhibition below:


The works in this show tease out energetic transitions that emerge from material and process. Using purpose-built machines and the fine tuning of physical and chemical interactions these works make visible and audible the flow of energy across boundaries. Sound, space, electricity, photosensitive materials, lasers and machine movement are used in a play of possibilities that reveal resonant patterns and lines of force. These materials speak and interact to produce emergent order and prime forms. This work is not so much aimed at achieving an ideal image or form but is rather the product of working through an iterative process of technical permutations that shows thought operating with and through materials.

OPENING FRIDAY JULY 29TH, 6PM TILL LATE, continues until August 14th.