My interest in photography was minimal until I found myself in upstate New York, stationed at Camp Drum. I was looking for something to do and a friend invited me to accompany him to the base Special Services facility where they had crafts, woodworking, and a photo lab for servicemen to use.
I watched as John developed a roll of film and, not really understanding the process and not being able to see anything happen, it seemed to be an interesting diversion. However, while the film dried he got things set up to print from some negatives he'd developed on his last visit there. That's when things changed for me. John made an exposure on a piece of enlarging paper and slipped it into the developer tray. When I saw a picture magically appear on the paper I was overtaken with a sense of awe and knew from that instant I wanted to learn and do.
The next day I bought a camera (a Minolta SRT-100 35mm SLR), some film, and checked out a handful of books on photography from our small base library. In my non-working hours I traveled around the area, shooting roll after roll of film, so I'd have something to play with in the darkroom. It become addictive and I wanted to know everything about the process of printmaking.
While some people get interested in photography and want to become the next Peter Gowland, Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, or Richard Avedon, I wanted to master the darkroom. I am a lab rat. The camera was simply a tool to produce material I could develop and print. I didn't dream of an ever-expanding camera bag with an assortment of camera bodies and a wide range of lenses, I thought about enlargers, safelights, timers, and the types of processes that were possible in that little room.
I worked in many darkrooms during my Army days. After Camp Drum I found myself at Fort Dix where there was also a well-equipped lab. Unlike Camp Drum, the lab in Fort Dix was staffed so I could ask questions and pick up tips. However, due to the nature of life at the time, rotating shift work, I didn't spend as much time in the lab as I liked. That changed drastically when our battalion was disbanded and I shipped out to Germany.
Wackernheim, Germany. A very small kaserne that was primarily a support base for a Nike missile site down the road. Luckily, even though the place had limited facilities, it did have a photolab which quickly became by second home. I worked 24-hours on and 24-hours off at the missile site and during those off days, I was usually found in the photo lab. It was run by a German gentleman, Ernst Berg, who had an extensive background in photography, a great sense of humor, and an experimental approach to things. It was there my black and white printing improved and I learned color printing.
I experimented with films and developers, pushing and pulling, honed my burning and dodging techniques, and starting working more with some experimental techniques such as the Sabbatier Effect which I feel I mastered.
After moving back to the West Coast, my apartment bathroom served a dual purpose as it became my darkroom. I found a job in a photofinishing lab where I was a film cutter, manually cutting 35mm, 126, 110, and all other sized negatives into shorter strips and matching them back up with the customer's envelope. That was an 8-hour midnight shift. I finally moved up and learned to run a color printer, cross-trained running the color print processor, learned color retouching and spotting, and finally was trained and assumed the new position as quality control technician. I mixed all the chemistry, set up all the machines and ensured they worked within specs, producing very few rejects. It was factory work, but it was fun.
In the meantime I moved from a one bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom duplex. The extra bedroom naturally became a dedicated darkroom. I continued spending long hours in the dark trying out various processes which included photo-seriagraphy, posterization, work with half-tome films, positive color printing, and anything else that struck my imagination. I then bought my first house and the darkroom was, again, set up in the 2nd bedroom and I continued to spend many hours there.
Life altered when children arrived followed by a move to another state coupled with a career change. I eventually set up a darkroom in a windowless basement room and put it to some use, however, I had been away from it for too long and have been unable to rekindle the same flame of passion to the level it once was. Other flames have ignited in its place and I think of it as not "out" but just in pilot light mode.