SAFELIGHT

by Mary Thomas

 

It’s a sunny day, but I can’t tell down here in a room void of windows. Draped over everything is a dim, red veil of light coming from three small lamps.

Music echoes across the nearly empty room. Nearly empty, except for me, hunched over a tray of chemicals tapping my feet to the dreamy sounds.

See, the cement has never meant so much
My hot head cools to the stone cold touch
I look to settle my seed with the dust
Brain, leave me becan’t you see that these eyes are shut?

King Krule drones on; the movements of my hands in harmony with his words, each step of the process mirroring my stream of consciousness. And my brain leaves me be, but my eyes are not shut. They’ve long adjusted to the dingy, drenching red glow and they stare into the tray at the drowning white rectangle as dark shapes begin to appear – slowly and then all at once. Vague shadows into bold features; a face emerges, cropped from forehead to chin. She peers past out-of-focus flower petals and through the developing mixture until our eyes meet.

Just under a pair of dark brows, her deep deliberate gaze exposes what she’s hidden so well. It showed itself for me, for my camera, for one short moment only. Usually the glass over her pupils is shut and locked and dead bolted to keep intruders from discovering too much. But now, there’s something different in her eyes. Every bit of what I didn’t know I didn’t know surfaces in a sea of grays, enclosed in a perfect circle by a ring of black. I hadn’t noticed before. The rough waters seem as if they might soon break free from their confining home between her eyelids.

There is no numbing of impressions here, in front of my camera. I’ve coaxed out of her the truest form she’s known. I’ve shattered the rose colored glasses. But beauty endures.

Everything here is beautiful because I have created it. Dancing around the darkroom between trays of yellow liquids (the fixer should be changed soon) I am in my own world. I am immersed in her gaze and in her truth and in my truth – a concept that’s taken root in my head on this trip to the darkroom, but has been working its way into the soil of my mind through my thoughts every time I pick up a camera or breathe. Yes, I am photographing her and explaining her and I wonder whether anyone else has seen this far into her eyes. But it’s not just about her. It’s about us and me and the cold air on the tip of her nose and whatever life means. And in that I am revealing myself more than her.

I place my prints on the rack to dry and shut the red lamps off one by one. Climbing the stairs from the basement haven, six hours has gone by.

 

em                    Emily Critchley, on Ilford HP5