Review: The Disappearance of Darkness by Robert Burley


Book Reviews, Photobooks


What is there left to say about film photography? I suppose nothing really. At the time of this writing, it is not quite dead, yet, and it might never fully die. But with consumers having abandoned film for the convenience of digital photography, film photography has become a small niche, and that’s just the way it is. The only real question might be whether colour film will survive or not (black and white appears safe in the hands of a small number of very dedicated producers), and that’s mostly a question for that small number of photographers who still use it (me included). (more)

Film’s demise has already been documented photographically, with the focus mostly on darkrooms. The Disappearance of Darkness by Robert Burley instead mostly shows the makers (or former makers) of film, depicting their facilities. Various of them have been abandoned or even blown up. Not far from where I am writing this review the remains of the Polaroid factory in Waltham, MA, can be seen from the highway. It’s a sorry sight - just like seeing cheap batteries bearing the label “Polaroid” in discount stores. That factory building, the book informs the reader, is going to be converted into “an office and retail complex.”

Office and retail - nobody makes anything any longer, at least not here. Our increasingly irrational dreams are being sustained by money being sent back and forth between banks, and by mostly crappy goods made somewhere else, for cheap. The disappearance of film is also the tale of the disappearance of jobs, the disappearance of us being willing (and able!) to pay for something we can hold in our hands. We’ve brought this situation onto ourselves, our whining every four years (when a Democrat/”left-leaning” candidate for the highest office in whatever country you might find yourself living in pretends s/he cares) notwithstanding.

The Disappearance of Darkness thus not just shows what is left of the industry making film for photographers (and whatever other applications there are), it also paints a larger picture by showing us how we moved into the post-industrial age (well our post-industrial age, since people elsewhere had to move into theirs to make the stuff we buy), and by mentioning, here and there, the things that have changed along with it (unions, job security, etc.).

The Disappearance of Darkness; photographs by Robert Burley; essays by Alison Nordström, Francois Cheval, Andrea Kunard; 176 pages; Princeton Architectural Press; 2012