Thursday, January 31, 2008

In the Dark

Happily, I finally discovered digital photography. But it was a long time coming.

For many years, I wallowed in fumes developing films and papers in a series of home and professional darkrooms, burning shoes, ruining shirts and pants, destroying linoleum floors, up to my elbows in foul odors and fouler chemicals.

My first darkroom was of the home variety, and the enlarger was so bad it was beyond belief. The edges of the prints were fuzzy and underexposed, and the centers were overexposed. I was thrilled when I sold it years later at a yard sale.

My next enlarger was a Besseler 23C, a very fine and sturdy enlarger that I used until my home darkroom days were over.

The first photo lab I worked in was back in New Britain, Conn. And that black & white darkroom was a doozie. The enlarger was a top-of-the-line Besseler with an Ilford filter head that could enlarge to 16x20+. You old-time photo buffs out there will know what I mean.

The cool part was that there was only one tray for processing, instead of three. You developed the paper in the tray, then tossed the print into this ancient rectangular metal contraption called a rocker. It stood about waist-high, and had five metal mesh trays - two stop baths, two fix baths, and a final tray of water.

The rocker was about 10 feet long and 3 feet wide. It ran on chain, with cogs, and had a timer. It would rock back and forth like a cradle to slosh the chemicals around, clicking all the time like a demented alarm clock. Every 3 minutes the trays would start to dump. It would dump one tray at a time seqentially, moving the processing photo paper down the line from left to right till everything wound up in the water bath. It really was a wonder.

I left the ancient rocker behind to move to California, and the first lab I worked in was in the San Fernando Valley, run by some pot-smoking brothers. Both of them were too lazy to do the processing, so that was my job. After spilling a gallon of developer on myself when one of them stumbled into me in the darkroom, and semi-frying my clothes, I moved on.

One of the nicest darkrooms I ever worked in was a darkroom created by a Beverly Hills photographer. It was state-of-the-art. Everything had been thought of, right down to exhaust fans, heat, and air conditioning. That was top of the line all the way around.

Alas, she retired. After working for a few more labs, the last of which was abandoned by its owners one night when they fled to Mexico, the California Department of (un)Employment thought I really should be a secretary instead of a master darkroom printer.

One last fitful excursion into the darkroom game had me locked in my pantry, inhaling stinking fumes and swearing, "Never again!"

And that's when I capitulated, and got my first damn digital camera.

Just before I moved up here, I decided I would give away my faithful Besseler 23C enlarger. Incredibly, an Asian student at UCLA went completely apeshit over it, oohing and aahing over it like it was a lost work of art. Hell, maybe it is.

So with it, he got all of my trays, film developing cans, and any other stray piece of darkroom equipment I could dredge up. He was practically delerious when he left.

Now instead of headaches from chemical fumes, I get headaches from Photoshop. The pain's the same, but photography is now a hell of a lot neater, and easier on the clothes.

Click here to see Elleda's photography at the Astoria Photografpix web site

1 comment:

nootka said...

Let there be light!