Last night I had this dream:
I’m about 18, and I’m going to go print up some black and white photos at school. I head to this tiny darkroom that few people know is actually there, and start getting my supplies together. There are other people also working in this darkroom, but since it’s not marked on the outside (thus, few people know about it), it’s prone to accidents, like someone stumbling into the room and flicking on all the lights, which happens just moments after I arrive. The other people in the room see their work and paper all get immediately exposed, and they yell at the person who flicked on the lights.
I go over to the enlarger and start setting it up. I can see everything so clearly: there are marks on the base of it that tell you where to line up your paper; I can see the brand of paper I bought, the logo, the package design, and feel the stiff cardboard box it comes in and the plastic that holds the paper inside. I go through every step of printing a photo, including such relatively throw-away details as adjusting and focusing the enlarger, bit by bit in what feels like real time.
When I’m finally done with the process, I pin up my photo to allow it to dry. It’s a very detailed, finely printed shot of a guy on a bicycle – he looks a little like Tom Waits, but not really. I look through the rest of my negatives and decide not to print anymore. I leave the darkroom.
Here’s what blows me away about this dream: it’s a combination of memory and also fabrication (which dreams often are), in a way that I’ve never had a dream before. There is no secret tiny darkroom at SVA (if there is, I don’t know about it). I don’t think I’ve ever been in a darkroom where someone flicked on the lights and everyone started yelling. Did I ever take a picture of a guy on a bicycle? Maybe? But probably not.
I haven’t printed a photo since I was about 18, the age in my dream, which was 20 years ago. I’d bet if you lead me to a darkroom with negatives in hand and everything set up to print, I wouldn’t remember exactly how to do it. And yet, in that moment, I did – or at least I think I did (because I wasn’t actually printing a photo, we’ll never know for sure if I did it as right as I think I did) and did it with total confidence.
But here’s what really gets me: are tasks that we learn to do by rote (like, printing a photo) never actually forgotten? There’s certain things that we assume we can do forever once we’ve learned it, like riding a bicycle. But what about stuff like this? Or, for instance, I’ve been crocheting some patterns I recently made up, making and remaking them over and over… will I suddenly, with no prodding, have the experience of working one of these patterns puked up by my unconscious while I sleep, 20 years from now?