Photography and smells

There may not be an immediate, obvious connection between photography and smell, but to me the two are inextricably linked.

Smell is apparently the sense that is most closely linked to our memories, making it incredibly powerful and emotive. You may find yourself down wind of someone and unexpectedly and suddenly catch their perfume in the back of your throat, bringing with it a flood of emotions as long forgotten (or suppressed) moments with loved ones explode into your mind.

Or less explosive perhaps, but to me equally personal, the smell of chemicals in the darkroom, powerful, crude even, but still layered and complex. The different smells from the different chemicals, mixing. The sharp intake of breath as you enter the darkroom, red light, slightly claustrophobic, accentuated by the close stuffy smells of the stop bath mixing with the developer and fix. Or the change in balance as they go off, overused and tired, slightly eggy. The wonder of the minds ability to become used to this constant smell when after a few minutes you stop noticing its presence.

Or as you open a box of paper for the first time, a subtle smell that will surprisingly cut through the density of the chemicals, holding the hope and promise of all that may or may not be printed on it. The success or failure of the possible prints.

And my favourite of all photographic smells – film. As evocative and effective for me as basil or truffles are at making your mouth water, the very smell of film will cause my creative juices to flow instead. I can almost sense with it the films ability to hold and contain the images I create, to help capture them and mix them with parts of my soul and freeze the results in time.

Yet as subtle and beautiful as the smell of new film is, there is a stronger more full bodied essence of film. Used film. When loaded onto the spiral and into the developing tank somehow, illogically it feels different. And it smells different too. As the tank fills up with water the smell is pushed out, loaded with promise, depth and maturity, filling me with anticipation, hunger, trepidation and a small amount of fear.

Illogical perhaps, but that is what the smells of my photography mean to me, and that is what they make me feel and think. I cannot explain where my images come from or how I create them and nor do I intend to try. By the same logic I make no apology for how these smells effect me or why I believe that used film smells different from unused film, or why the smell of paper holds a subtle promise, a longing to be used successfully. It is what it is and it’s where my head goes when I am working. It seems to work for me.

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