I shutoff the safelights to my darkroom for the last time more than 10 years ago. State of the art, temperature controlled, I developed and printed almost everything, black & white, color and transparencies, not easy back then. I considered myself a good printer and like to think I mastered the darkroom. Technology didn’t change much. It was an art and for some, still.
Mixing up chemistry, the unforgettable smell of fixer and the tips of your fingers turning brown from rubbing developer into the print. Who used tongs? Unspooling the first foot of film off the development reel and looking at the images through the ceiling light was exhilarating. Seeing the latent image of a print appear, agitating the developer rocking the tray back and fourth was magic. I loved the darkroom as much as loved making pictures; they went hand in hand.
Technology changed and it was time to move on to digital printers. Quality wasn’t better in the early days of digital, my opinion of course. Nonetheless I always embraced the future. The biggest misnomer, digital is “Cheaper.” Not true. I remember cameras costing a fifth of today’s price not to mention computer and software upgrades. Ink for printers is outrageous and the paper, very pricey per sheet. My 15×20 foot darkroom had been replaced with a variety of printers over the years taking a fraction of the space and no chemicals or water; very green. Learning curves and and few years of evolvements, truth be told, the quality is mind blowing. Over the years I’ve scanned and reprinted some of my favorite and most difficult prints that I labored hours in the darkroom. The differences are staggering. Photoshop plays a tremendous role.
When I sold off my film cameras, they were hard to let go, but felt I found them a good home. However darkroom equipment seems orphaned. It’s an era long gone. I struggled with the dumpster. It was more than equipment and deserved a better fate. After years unsuccessfully trying to find a home it was time to say goodbye. It seems strange getting melancholy over darkroom equipment, but like a carpenters tools they become a part of you.
So — Thank you film reels – I lost count of the number of rolls of film you developed over the years and did it flawlessly.
Thank you enlarger – for letting me twist your baseboard backward so you can project an image to floor to make that super crop.
Thank you easels – I projected thousands of pictures on to you. You helped me crop images into pictures, and didn’t mind much when I still had traces fixer on my hands.
Thank you safelights – I couldn’t read the New York Times with the light you provided, but you did exactly what you were designed. You made many changes from Polycontrast, fixed contrast to Panalure, making black & white from color negatives, with out skipping a beat.
Thank you temperature control – when I advanced from black & white to color you kept the temperatures within a ½ a degree without fail.
Thank you dodging and burning tools – I couldn’t have done it without you.
Thank you development trays. There was nothing like watching a print come alive as I tilted you back and forth. You were also helpful with ceiling leaks.
Thank you dryers – you were quick and clean and did a perfect job every time.
You may have thought I abandoned you years ago, but always had you in my thoughts. You gave me too many memories and we saw lots of history together. People tend to forget the past, but I see it as a road to the future. I don’t believe photography would have been as interesting if not for you.
There’s no denying digital printers are better. Facebook, Flickr, smartphones, digital frames and huge monitors changed the way we look at pictures and perhaps one day digital printers will be a part of the past or just not as necessary.
I’ll never forget making a picture of a friend’s family. His 92-year old mother asked if she could have a copy, pulled a print from her wallet and said “like this,” showing frustration with the electronic versions her family sends her. I was actually surprised when a 30-something friend, in the technology business, pulled out prints from his wallet of his children.
There’s no going back, and who would want to? Today’s technology is fabulous, exciting and exhilarating in its own way. Your imagination is endless. The darkroom was a special place; it taught you a tremendous amount about making an image. And those who have not experienced the thrill of seeing a print come alive before their eyes are missing something special.