Out of the Dark

26 03 2010

Preface: I don’t think I’ve ever written a purely emotional, purely personal post on my blog. Today is going to be different, and I’m going to fully give in to my ADD and just let this one come out however it comes out. Hope you don’t mind.

It’s a bittersweet day for me. Today I pack up my darkroom for the foreseeable future. It’s like burying my best friend and hoping he will breathe again someday.

Don’t be scandalized, and don’t start penning your “I told you so’s.” I’m not leaving film behind, and not getting modernized. No, it’s just the circumstances of life interfering. In a few days, my husband will be starting a new job in Charleston, South Carolina, and the kids and I will be staying behind for practical purposes. It’s time to reduce expenses and live simply, which means a move to a smaller and less expensive home. It means saying goodbye (for now) to my hideout.

My darkroom and I have been together for eight years. When life overwhelmed me, when people doubted me, when I doubted myself, when anger took over, when creativity was making me insane, through a marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the darkroom was my haven. In it, I learned not just about photography, but about discipline, emotion, patience (sometimes), and true self-expression. I made ridiculous mistakes and indescribable messes, celebrated triumphs that I never imagined, and at times drank and cussed like a sailor. The things I learned!

Packing up today meant going through literally thousands of prints, some good and some “rustic”, and remembering shooting and printing each and every one. It suddenly feels like it’s been a long journey. Sometimes I forget that in going from point A (the beginning) to point B (now), there were so many twists and turns and roadblocks and bridges. Photography began as an outlet for a lot of pain and anger, and eventually became an expression of self-awareness and appreciation of life in every phase, witnessed by four black walls. While my goal in those years was to express myself and to learn the (sometimes frustrating) craft of good photography, I somewhat inadvertently created a record of myself and those I love. Going through all of those prints today was a bizarre journey, a tangible flashback.

I found some prints from my friends as well. Andy, you taught me to value simplicity and embrace sarcasm. Kathryn, you were the first peer I ever envied, and that envy motivated me in the early days when I was frustrated. Thank you both.

I came across some other images that, though they aren’t technically great and/or remarkable in their own right, speak to me now and always. I love this one not just because of the message from the literary graffiti artist, but also because the image itself just isn’t great. I find it charmingly naive, from the days when I had none of the confidence in my work that I do now. I think I was wishing to be misunderstood so I could feel great.


Note that the inverse is rarely true.

This image of Baby Caroline from six? years ago has never really left my head, but it’s a bit too emotional for me to have ever displayed anywhere. For those who haven’t known me long, Baby Caroline was born with only three chambers of her heart. Her parents and doctors knew she would only have a few hours to live, and I had the great privilege (and sorrow) of being there through her birth to photograph her with her family. This was Caroline meeting her grandmother, and is the most bittersweet image I have ever made.


Baby Caroline

But while we chase art and beauty in our work, it’s important to remember that images like this one, just a little snapshot, can mean more than any piece of art we ever create. This is me with Baby Caroline, taken by her grandmother from the image above, who in her eleven days of life taught me more about photography than any book or mentor ever will. This is when I truly understood my mantra, that effective portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection. (To Caroline’s family, I will always keep the heart pendant she “gave” me near and dear to me; I don’t dare wear it for fear that I’ll lose it.)

CJ and Caroline

Me and my mentor

In the end, I suppose losing the darkroom really is losing a friend. I wonder if I spent enough time with it, I wonder what could have been and how I’ll get along without it. In the end, I suppose I’ll cherish the memories until I can have another. But it will never be the same. True friends can’t be replaced.

Thanks for reading.

– CJ




30 responses

26 03 2010

True friends come back though, no matter what happens. Please stick to your craft and the blog as it’s one of the most honest sites out there these days. Not only is your work beautiful, your words and your opinions are honest and open, without any fear of being judged.

Good luck with it all.

26 03 2010

You’re speaking right to my heart. What a beautiful journey, one worth sharing and one worthy of reflection. You will have it again. It will be different, it will be even more sweet once you’ve weathered this storm. Beautiful in every way. Thank you for sharing. Willing you forward– keep creating, keep inspiring.

26 03 2010

Again you spoke as a voice from inside me. I have to left my darkroom a lot of years ago. I tried to build it up again but still can’t. At less i still develop my own black and white rolls. Hope you can do it too, is not necessary to much things.

26 03 2010

i will certainly miss seeing your life prints. i hope you will still be shooting though ~ from one who knows, losing that part of yourself just leaves you wandering and misplaced, until that time that you pick up your camera again and you think “what took you so long.”

thinking of you during this time of acceptance and adjustments.

26 03 2010

that was truly beautiful. i’ve always had a problem with change, and this is a massive one. but i also know that even if it’s not the same after this, you’re about to embark on a new journey that could be more amazing than you’ve ever dreamed.

you’re story is inspirational, to become a film photographer and grow in those years as you have… that’s just thrilling. and truly inspirational for those of us who haven’t leaped yet and only dream of it.

i hope you keep shooting. i hope you don’t lose your inspiration and drive. maybe it’s time to see life as john mayer put it once, with “no more 3×5’s” just for a little while. make you remember why you love life prints in the first place.

i think this add, emotional, personal post was pretty fantastic.

26 03 2010
Out of the Dark « PhotoDino | The Click

[…] It’s a bittersweet day for me. Today I pack up my darkroom for the foreseeable future. It’s like burying my best friend and hoping he will breathe again someday. […]

27 03 2010

This post touched me. I don’t have any words of wisdom, because I’m still finding my own. I just wish you good luck. Your return will be celebrated.

27 03 2010


27 03 2010

Hi Cheryl:
Bless you and thank you so much for sharing this sudden bend in the road. it gives all strength when we know we are not alone, that others walk in the darkness alongside us.
Oftentimes, when such things begin to transpire, we are wont to see them as catastrophes. Of course they are not. we are merely (ha!) moving to a new place, to a new level. Naturally there is a horrible wrench, because we all want to rise smoothly and uninterrupted to a new plane of understanding and operation without any trauma. but our greatest lessons come from those fractured times, if we are open to the blessing which they are.
Like you I had to give the darkroom away, for the fact that i had suddenly become allergic to the chemistry and my body would no longer tolerate it. the wrench came in giving away all those years of acquired knowledge, expertise and understanding, taking a headfull of data such as how to make amidol developers and kissing it all goodbye. but i had come to a dead end. it was tieme to move on, to realise that to continue on my journey, i ahd to say farewell to the past, to thank and honour it…then let it go…..
Taht said, I came to realise that sitting with a glass of wine and pressing ctrl>P was Ok…lol
It seems to me that if this happening, you are both blessed and talented. give thanks and celebrate. and let go. one of Life’s greatest lessons…
Arohanuie e hoa

27 03 2010

Thank you for sharing this emotional moment.I have just started out in the darkroom 6 months ago and my journey so far has been quite frustrating and made of desasters rather than success but I am enjoying my time in the darkroom so much. Reading about your experience in the darkroom puts everything in
perspective and I understand that the journey to
beautiful prints will be a long and patient
one.I wish you all the best in your new home.

27 03 2010
neal carpenter

I’m so sorry. That is truly one of the sadest things I’ve read. I’m dreaming of setting up my first darkroom while you are packing yours. Hopefully, one day, you’ll be able to rekindle your friendship.

27 03 2010

I lack words to describe what I feel – congrats on the movement to a new stage in your life. I’m certain that the dark room’s absence is temporary but even if it is not, whatever medium you choose to create your work in – you will undoubtedly create art, pure & simple.

Much love to you on this new adventure.

27 03 2010

I am so sad that you are loosing your darkroom. I understand the feelings you have towards it as I still have not taken mine down, I just can’t (even though I haven’t used it for over a year). With all you have gone through and triumphed over through the years, you will get it back. And what a reunion it will be. Wishing you many great new memories in your new home.
Thank you for this very thought provoking blog.

27 03 2010

Thanks, everyone. Of course I’ll still continue as a photographer; I just can’t be a printer right now. I’ve had a good cry about it (OK, maybe a tantrum) and now I can move on.

27 03 2010

My darkroom days were over 10 years ago in high school and college. I haven’t missed them until I read this. I look forward to hearing what happens next. I think you’ll figure out how to make something good out of it.

28 03 2010
paige elizabeth

I shed a tear. And felt your loss. And I admit that I love that you had a tantrum about saying good-bye too… I have no doubt that you’ll be back in the darkroom. Hopefully really, really soon from some magical new source…

28 03 2010

What a beautiful, honest, heart filled post. Change is hard, but in the end it helps us all to grow and learn about ourselves and the world around us. As mentioned above good friends never actually leave your side for long and I am sure that as soon as it’s possible you will find a way to make it happen. Until then I look forward to reading your posts and viewing your amazing photography.

28 03 2010
Shelly Rogers

Your words have touched me in unexpected ways. Not once did I think of a dark room as a dear friend…for a split moment I realized the feelings you are having and the thought of not having a darkroom (digital or not) overwhelmed me. This is tremendous and although a temporary situation my heart hurts for you in this moment. Thank you for sharing your feelings, thank you for helping me see in a more clear way myself. I am sure this will cause even greater things to come forth from you. I can’t wait to see it!

29 03 2010
Hart tan

Hi Cheryl,

just come across your site recently, generally find it difficult to read but your words are so wonderful to read i end up spend few nights reading and learning from you.

Often your word is so plain yet true to the bone. It gives me if not most different perspective.

I salute you for your knowledge in people and the heart to feel for them.

Thank you for sharing.


29 03 2010
Dennis Guichard

Hang in there Cheryl, the world will turn and new opportunities will arise. I worked in the Middle East away from my family recently too, because I had to, it was tough but it opened some fantastic new doors for my photography that I could never have foreseen. Sometimes opportunity arises from the seemingly darkest of places. You’ve got far too much talent for this life for it not to allow you to shine with it somewhere!

30 03 2010

Sad times, but it will all work out because it is what you are meant to do x

30 03 2010

Good luck with your big move, and hopefully the seperation from your husband will be bearable. This massive change cannot be easy at all

30 03 2010

Sorry for you loss. I will love up my darkroom today and never take it for granted again.

31 03 2010
Ed Hamlin

I feel you, for some time I have longed to have my own darkroom again. In part for the solice but mostly it was where I found a depth of creativity that didn’t come from behind the viewfinder.

Fear not though, you will loose your creativity and find a home for your friend, it may not be quite the same but he will come out of hibernation to bring forth a new season in meadow filled with a flora of creativity.

31 03 2010
Madame Meow

I think of you often, and of your wonderful advice and warmth with a very rookie photographer. Your words about baby Caroline were so moving I’m blinking back tears.

I’m sorry you’re saying goodbye to your good friend.

I hope it’s just a short-term separation.

1 04 2010

I would give my right arm to live in Charleston. What a photographers dream. The arts are very much appreciated in there. Don’t know why you are not moving with your husband!


2 04 2010

Jeff, I would love to live in Charleston. As mentioned in my post, I share custody of my kids and can’t take them out of state.

5 04 2010

I am writing you from the other end of the world to tell you that I “b e l i e v e” you and to your photography.
I can only wish that you do not lose your belief in yourself and come back again…
My best wishes to your family,

Ankara, Turkey

9 04 2010

Thanks so much to everyone for all the support and encouragement I’ve gotten, both here and via e-mail and phone calls. The transition has been… interesting, but healthy. Hopefully I’ll steal a few minutes to update you all later on this afternoon.

– CJ

4 01 2012

boo…you made me cry @ work. i saw the picture and fell in love w/it so had to read the post and now i can’t stop tearing up! what a wonderful opportunity you had during such unfortunate times. i don’t think i could be a photographer in a situation like that…i can’t stop crying now so i certainly wouldn’t be able to in person. makes me want to run home and hug my little baby girl.

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