Silver-Scuro Studio/Steven Mastroianni
Steven Mastroianni Photography & Arts

Dark Silver

Dark Silver: Exhibition Prospectus

“Tina”  Silver gelatin print from 4x5 negative

Silver gelatin print from 4x5 negative



Photographs represent not only the moment, the freezing in time and space of that view, but also the light, as refracted through the lens, burned onto the film, and translated to the final image.

“Dark silver” refers to the medium of traditional black and white film, where light sensitive silver particles react, darken, and harden, forming the image seen through the lens. Light becomes dark, and dark becomes light, in order to preserve the moment and subject, and the process is reversed, restoring the light to the dark in the creation of the print. The final print isn’t merely a representation of the moment and subject, it is a physical manifestation of that moment. If the old notion holds that photography “steals” your soul, then this is alchemy--the camera turns your soul into silver.

Presence and Interaction

The project consists of several series of portraits made within specific technical and conceptual parameters. Most subjects have volunteered via an open call on social media. Each subject brings their own expectations and willingness to sit, and are advised of the parameters and the process of the medium. The sitting process is one of trust, both by the sitter with their relative lack of expectations, and by me in my desire to create engaging portraits with very little context aside from the process. The subjects themselves were required to hold certain positions longer than normal as I shoot multiple large and medium film formats for different interpretations. In spite of the seemingly rigorous posing, only six to twelve exposures are created for each subject. The resulting photographs reflect a presence of each person, the interaction with me, the camera, and ultimately the viewer. The connection between subject and photographer, and ultimately viewer, is dependent upon the connection between light and gesture, refraction and chemical reaction, creating rich silver images where time and light are carefully measured and refracted through the lens onto the film.

Photograph as Object

The resulting photographs, all hand processed prints, range from contact prints, up to 16”x 20”, 20”x24”, 36” wide banners, and multi-panel installations measuring more than 40 inches wide. All images are hand printed, silver gelatin prints. One of the goals of Dark Silver is to reclaim the notion that a photograph is more than an image presented by the most convenient means of output, but is itself a precious object, part and parcel to the means that created it. There is a direct line of light and silver from the initial exposure to the final print.

The Negative

In addition to prints, there is a didactic component of this exhibit consisting of light boxes displaying select negatives, to help educate the viewer on the nature of the medium. The reason for this element is to address the quickly vanishing understanding of the photographic medium. In my experience as an educator, I am finding that fewer and fewer of my students understand or have knowledge of film. Many never actually seen a film negative or understand the nature of image reversal and the photochemical process. But far from a dry explanation of process, the eerie, glowing negatives further illuminate the beauty of the medium, of recording light through silver, and locking those strange, reversed facial features onto a sheet of film.


I am a Cleveland based artist, professional photographer, college professor, and musician. Although I come from a family of professional and amateur photographers, drawing and painting was my first passion. It wasn't until I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art that I developed an interest in photography as a byproduct of the video work I was doing at the time. Already having a familiarity with the darkroom process from spending time as a child in my brother's darkroom, it was an easy transition to creating images with the camera and realizing those images under the glow of the amber light in the lab. Although most of the work I do today is digital, the creative process--from composing images, making technical choices about focal lengths and exposures, to post processing--is essentially the same. The traditional process is not completely gone, however, as I still maintain one of the last professional B&W darkrooms in the Cleveland area, where I process and print my own work, as well as the work of other professionals.

From 2008 until 2018 I was the owner and operator of Silver Scuro Studio and Gallery (formerly Mastroianni Arts), a photo studio and art gallery, where I exhibited the work of area artists and other arts related events.

My original photographs are included in many private and corporate collections, including that of the Cleveland Clinic. I have exhibited my work in more than thirty solo and group shows, and have had the honor of curating and/or judging many exhibitions as well.