Darkrooms I Have Known

A Leitz Focomat V35, the last enlarger I used on a regular basis, and my darkroom 'enlarger' now: a 15" MacBook Prol with Photoshop CS5. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

A Leitz Focomat V35, the last enlarger I used on a regular basis, and my darkroom 'enlarger' now: a 15" MacBook Pro with Photoshop CS5. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Over the course of my career I’ve worked in many, many darkrooms, but the darkroom I use today is my favorite: a MacBook Pro with Photoshop CS5. And yes, it truly is a (digital) darkroom! But that’s getting ahead of the story…

Photography has changed more in the past 10-12 years than it had in the previous 50.  The advent of high quality digital photography and everything it entails—CCDs, DSLRs, amazing ISO ranges, immediate feedback—these are huge changes to the way we create images. But the changes are just as dramatic in the post-production part of photography: no longer do you need a traditional darkroom to make and tone fine prints. With Photoshop and a decent archival pigment printer, you can make museum-quality prints that will outlive you by at least a generation. (If you’ve ever tried to set up a traditional darkroom to do actual archival printing, you know this is no mean feat.)

I spent about 25 years of my life working in traditional darkrooms. Some of them were elaborate rooms full of the latest enlarging equipment, built-in safelights and massive sinks; others were nothing more than a motel bathroom, the enlarger sitting on the toilet and the door made light-tight with double-folded duct tape. But they were all places of mystery and creativity, and always, I found, surprisingly calming environs. Waiting to watch a print come up in the developer tray in the yellow half  light is a memory I’ll always cherish, but not miss. Because darkrooms were also places full of nasty chemicals, noxious smells and who-knows-what long-term health hazards. My fingernails stayed yellow from fixer solution for most of those years. Thinking back over it, I think I worked in ONE darkroom in all those years that was properly ventilated, a very, very common problem.

So now I make my photographs with digital cameras and tone them using Photoshop. I find that after years of working with this program, I’ve reached the point where I can get exactly the look and feel I want to achieve in the print without having to get my hands wet and without inhaling a snout full of fumes. It’s wonderful, really: sitting in the comfort of my living room, burning and dodging that new photograph I’m so excited about.

The best of both worlds, I think: all of the good but none of the bad.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Inspire

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

2 Comments on "Darkrooms I Have Known"

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  1. David Joachim says:

    That brought back memories of photography’s toxic age. I never liked dipping my hands in the chemicals when making prints as a young man. I was especially annoyed by the carcinogenic soup our newsfilm swam through (the fan motor that sucked it from the processing room was deafening but essential).
    I appreciate what electronics does to advance the art and craft of photography, wiithout harming the atmosphere. Nice post.

  2. Yes, ‘toxic age’ is a great way to describe it. I guess we all just accepted it as the price we paid to pursue what we loved, but looking back on it, we were dealing with some toxic industrial stuff. I think a lot of artists have this issue and sometimes it will definitely affect your health.

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