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6.1 / Kimberly Schneider’s Dark Rooms

For Kimberly Schneider, the darkroom isn’t just a tool. It’s a way of being, a modus vivendi. Some of us need bread, a cat for company, a stiff drink at the end of the day. For Schneider, it’s the handmade print. Groceries can wait. It’s all about the bath and fixer. “My process is a huge part of who I am as a photographer,” she says. “[T]he more I print, the more I start to see.”

The darkroom life, alas, doesn’t come cheap. Schneider has been working in New York City for the past fifteen years, and rent hikes have been a challenge. In 2017, she lost her workspace. With COVID-19 came unemployment. Grim days.

But not grim enough to stop Schneider from making images. Turning to cameraless photography, she embarked on a series of photograms, using candle wax, sparklers, and firework LED light to create ethereal and elemental vignettes. 

Schneider’s photograms poeticize light. We see a thin, lanceolate leaf—or not the leaf itself but the idea of it, the dream of it—emerging from a smoldering ether. We see bright chrysanthemums arrested in cosmic levitation. In some images, insects start to appear: a radiant seam becoming dragonfly (see “Comet” at the top of this feature).

It’s no wonder that Schneider writes about this work in metaphor and in stanzas. The muse is introspective, internal. “The darkroom is where I learn about the subconscious aspect of my images,” she says. And the language she uses in this feature creates what she calls “natural equivalents” to that inner darkroom, its reveries and emanations.

Not all of us have access to rooms with such a view, and to not have it feels like a deprivation. But if you’re like me, it’s probably not for a lack of trying. I’m always looking for what Kimberly Schneider sees. 

Words & Photograms by Kimberly Schneider

Lean into You © Kimberly Schneider

I lean into you
If for only a moment
To be in your arms

Into Your Arms © Kimberly Schneider

In a galaxy far, far away
I crawl into your arms
And it’s safe to breathe

In real life, I think I’ve been alone a bit too long
Been missing arms to crawl into
Since before the dark days

I never really knew you
Yet, sometimes, I find your arms
Slipping into my mind

Isolation clouds my memory
So much time has passed
I had almost forgotten
How surprisingly warm and inviting they were
Once upon a time

Sometimes, I wonder if you remember
How close you once came
To letting me see you, without the mask
Before the world changed
And I stopped seeing your face

I never really knew you
Yet, your arms were my last

Maybe, this is just loneliness talking
But seeing you again, reminded me of the days
Before life stood still

To be honest, I don’t really remember
Your arms all that well

But if you were to ask
You just might be able to convince me
To fall into them for real

Unmasked © Kimberly Schneider

Free for the first time in so long
I keep forgetting to breathe

Back in the darkroom
I see remnants of the armor
That tried to protect my soul, during the dark years
I never knew it was there

Ensconced in shadow, I didn’t even see it
But the damage was already done

Gone was the free spirit
I almost forgot her
I’m thankful she found her way back

Lost for so long, but I never wavered
I always knew I’d be found

I refused to surrender
But my soul was weary
I felt the damage, before I could see it
But I was still fighting for the cure

Then came the dark days of covid
And of all things a miracle
An ocean of wrong turns corrected at last

Releasing the past
With each sheet of paper
My soul began to heal

I found my way back
One chance in a million

Free of the darkness
That for so long, enveloped everything I touched
I blinked, and the mask was gone

Alternate Reality © Kimberly Schneider

An inverse reaction
To a world turned inside-out
Lost in the cobwebs of what used to be

Searching for meaning
In the night sky
Perusing the depths, by candlelight

Trying to find our bearings
With no map in sight
Nothing is quite as it seems

Night blends into day
While time can’t seem to make up its mind
Standing still for so long
Before speeding up again
Sometimes, it’s hard to decipher what is real

Half frozen in time
Half rushing to make use of it
Sometimes, it all feels like a dream

Alternate reality twists our minds
Setting us free
While gasping for air at the same time

Forced into solitude
Silver linings reveal themselves
The moment we learn to let go
Of all we thought we knew

Yet, this type of solitude
Takes a toll on the mind
For it is not peaceful, most of the time

In this parallel universe
Overthinking minds and overburdened hearts
Struggle to survive

Not even I can avoid the recesses of my mind
As often as I’d like

Despite the isolation, traces of beauty call to me
Stirring my soul
They lead me back into the light

Yet, until this alternate reality subsides
It will continue to be
A deep, soul dive

Blinded by the Light © Kimberly Schneider

Blinded by the light
Free from the darkness at last
I return to me

Kimberly Schneider in the Darkroom. Photo by Karen Vierbuchen.

Check out more from this series at the Artists Studios Project. For those interested in printmaking,  Schneider will be leading an online workshop this April at the Penumbra Foundation. She also offers individual printing tutorials and printing services.

For more on upcoming shows and series, follow Kimberly Schneider on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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