In the photo lab at school, Leon watched carefully as the monochrome photo developing in the chemical bath deepened in its contrasts. Light and dark. Highlights and shadows. Leon was absorbed, his long-lashed eyes fixed on the photo, as its image was fixed by the chemicals. Satisfied, he pulled the wet paper from the chemical bath with a pair of blue plastic tongs, watched a moment as the drips from the lower edge of the paper slowed, then clipped the photo to a string washing line rigged over the sink. Leon’s hands glowed redly in the dim darkroom light. The process completed, he could now open the door and let in the white neon light from the studio.
As the print dried, Leon cleaned up the darkroom. He blinked in the white light, his long lashes fluttering. When he was done, he took down the fresh, dried print with gentle reverence. He carried it out into the bright studio and peered at it closely.
This was the culmination of weeks of work – Leon’s entry in the end-of-year photography contest. He was late in getting the print made, and he’d have to make sure it was mounted, labelled and ready by 5 pm today. But the important thing was to get the print itself right – the right subject, the right composition, the right light. And shadow. The graininess of grit, the subtle and the stark. Leon knew that most of the other entries would be in colour. He sniffed disdainfully at the thought. Colour was so unsubtle.
He scrutinised his print. It was a still life, something none of those conformist dummies, with their flashy colour, would probably attempt. The stillness of life, a contrast with the rushing reality of things. A dark, quiet moment like a secret dream. On a grimy bathroom shelf he’d arranged a roll-on deodorant pack, its top screwed off and tossed on the shelf; a disposable razor with a scum of shaving cream and a few short coarse hairs on the edge of the used blade; a cake of soap with dirty dried bubbles on its surface; and a condom packet torn open, its contents missing. On the packet was printed the words “Black Label.”
Leon smiled. He was satisfied.