The Darkroom - Part 2

First Long Beach Darkrooms - 1975-1978

Returning to civilian life I lived with my parents for a spell and after acquiring an enlarger and a few accessories I set up a darkroom in their bathroom. While there I did slide developing, the E-6 process, for the first time. A friend of a friend needed several hundred slides copied and since I'd bought a bellows system with a slide copy attachment I said I'd do the job. I don't remember what I charges but, like most of my photography "jobs," it wasn't a money maker but gave me a chance to learn something new and help pay for the consummables I used in my own work.

Before I totally wore out my welcome at my parent's place, I found an apartment in Long Beach that suited my needs. It was a nice place on Stanley Ave. just off 7th Street, coincidentally around the corner from where my great-grandparents opened a grocery store in the 1920s or so. My rent was $165/month for 1 bedroom, one bath that included a garage and a parking space. Of course, the bathroom became my darkroom. The hallway closet became photographic storage. While it was sort of cramped, I'd made a custom counter top that fit over the vanity and the toilet that gave me lots of surface area for the enlarger and the developing trays.

Since I worked a graveyard shift at the photofinishing lab and had no one to answer to, when not in school or work, I spent lots of time in that darkroom. It was during this time that I started doing more color printing but instead of using open trays like I had in Germany, I switch to a tube. With this method the paper was loaded into the tube and a light-safe cap was placed on the open end. The tube was filled with water that was about 105 degrees through a light-safe opening in the cap. This would stand for a minute or two to temper the tank, after which a small amount of developer was poured in. The tube heated the developer up to the correct temperature and then the tube was rolled back and forth for the required time after which it was dumped out and replaced with the beach/fix. Once the workflow was established it became an efficient print making process.

While I printed all kinds of things, I got into double exposures and other effects like using color separation filters to give subjects a surreal look. I also continued to print from my backlog of work that I had shot while in Germany and Greece.

Cologne, Germany, 1975. Scanned print. Original on Ilford Cibachrome.

The idea for this image came to me while cutting film at work. It took a while to figure out how to do this. The eye was on 35mm film and the sunset on 120 film. Getting the color filter pack for each took a while, wanting the color of the skin to blend with the color of the sky. It took both burning and dodging to combine the two images.

In these two I was masking highlights with orthographic film to leave just the shadows and the middle tones. The one on the left was first manipulated by a method I have now forgotten. The image on the left was scanned from the slide. The image on the right was scanned from the original Ilford Cibachrome.

Not long after I had settled into the apartment and the job I bought a 1976 Honda CB750 motorcycle. Riding that bike was as large passion as photography and I frequently had my camera with on rides. I also took car trips to the deserts, both Joshua Tree and Death Valley, which are quite photogenic. All of this was followed by hours in the darkroom.

The Darkroom in the Duplex - 1978-1982

In 1978 I moved to a 2 bedroom duplex, front unit, and the second bedroom became the darkroom. It was still a "dry" darkroom in that it had no running water but that was only a minor inconvenience. Since the room had windows, I covered them with removable black vinyl. I built some tables, covered them with a plastic laminate, and had myself my first real darkroom dedicated to that purpose. I also installed speakers connected to my main stereo system so I was not working in silence. About a year after moving in I changed jobs, going to work for an engineering company, and was now working day shift. To deal with heat and to add some ventilation I bought a used, window-mounted air conditioner that not only kept the darkroom comfortable but the other bedroom as well.

It really was a fine darkroom and was heavily used over the next 4 years and not just by me. One of the guys who lived behind me was into it and we'd use it together on weekends, usually inviting other friends over and making a party of it. A friend from work used it to print an entire set of wedding photos he'd shot. A roommate used it quite a bit as well.

In 1982, my future wife and I were living there when the landlord retired and sold the building. The new owner raised the rent, which had been $275/month for the whole time I'd lived there, to nearly $500/month. We thought that was pretty steep and wondered how much more our monthly cost of housing would be if we just bought a house. As it turned out, a small house was up for sale just down the street, so we bought it. It was a 2 bedroom, one bath house built in the 1920s. The second bedroom become a darkroom and an office. That worked out fine until our first child came along and the darkroom moved out to make way for a nursery. I set the darkroom up in the small garage but I was also doing woodworking and the dust from that and photography just didn't mesh so the darkroom pretty much retired for a few years.

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Updated January 2021.