In our digital world of increasing megapixels and shrinking cameras, Mancos photographer Brian Killigrew has bucked the trend.
Killigrew, unlike most photographers today, hauls his large-format camera around on a wooden tripod. The large-format camera looks like something out of a Western film, complete with a black cloth he drapes over his head when outdoors. It produces a negative that measures 4 inches by 5 inches, which needs to be developed in a darkroom.
Yes, a darkroom.
Killigrew has one in his Mancos home.
“Many people don’t even know what a darkroom is anymore,” he said.
But the darkroom is where Killigrew’s images come alive. It is where he makes his black-and-white prints, 40 of which will be on display at Olio in Mancos through Jan. 3.
“I can compose a beautiful photograph with my camera, but it is in the darkroom where all the subconscious comes. It’s where all the surprises happen,” he said. “The print is really the completion of the process.”
The art of the print
Killigrew, 58, is from New York City. He moved to the Mancos area two years ago and is loving it. He worked as a photographer and print developer in New York. He estimates he has made 400,000 prints in his life, and he still isn’t tired of it.
“The print is really the completion of the process,” he said.
Inside his darkroom, recently, Killigrew demonstrated his process. It is long and complicated and requires exact timing, the right exposure and a correct mixture of chemicals.
He pulled a piece of paper out of the dark, clicked a button and counted to 20. He excitedly grabbed the paper from under the enlarger and placed it into a bath of developer. A faint image of Shiprock appears.
But he isn’t happy with it.
“There isn’t enough detail here,” he says. “And the sky is dark.”
So back to the enlarger he went. He pulled out another sheet of photo paper and started again. He counted to 20, but this time, when he started to count, he put his hands over different spots here and there, a rhythmic dance with the exposure.
Again, he took the paper to the developer bath.
“Ah, much better,” he said.
But it could be even better.
“This looks decent, but it needs a little more oomph or some drama to it,” he said.
‘This is what I do best’
Most of the time, it takes Killigrew an entire day to get one or two prints perfect. There are times it take as long as a week to get one print perfect.
Even after 40 years of developing, the process still isn’t old.
“This is what I do best in life,” he said.
The darkroom is where Killigrew is most comfortable.
“When I’m photographing, I don’t necessarily see everything,” he said. “I get to see everything in an image in the darkroom.”
Every little detail is there for him to inspect, and he hopes the viewers of the show in Mancos will appreciate those details.
He only works in black-and-white.
“With black and white, I am trying to show the mystery and the spirit of whatever I’m photographing,” he said.“In a way, black and white is more abstract and shows the abstract of things, I am trying to get beyond the pretty surface. Black and white can be very emotional and have a lot of feeling.”
In today’s world of digital photography, Killigrew feels that people don’t really look at images anymore, something he knows his art will change.
“People’s eyes are bombarded with images ever day,” he said. “To look at a still image takes patience and time, and today people have 30-second lives.”