It is quite hard to imagine a time when there was no digital photography and no photoshop to edit pictures. No color correction, no easy cropping, no sharpening, no fast retouching. Today, the vast majority of hobby and professional photography is based on DSLR cameras and the "digital darkroom" to achieve any kind of effect you can imagine for your photo. The time when all this stuff was just a mere fantasy just lie 25 years in the past.
Photography was more a more "material" thing, it was more chemistry and physics than software skills. The process from pressing the release and holding the finished print in your hands was way more complicated, took more steps, more knowledge and experience, more patience. Today you are walking a different path when becoming a photographer. You have to care about building a reputation, on the web, with features and magazines, your photos have to get out to the world if you want to earn a living with photography. A big part of the work is marketing work.
|A darkroom in the 40's|
In the pre-digital era, becoming a photographer meant learning a craft. The most important part of the photographic work happened in the darkroom, the place for processing the film and making prints from the negatives. The possibilities that can influence the final picture are countless: temperature of the chemicals, time of processing, movement when processing, different kinds of photographic paper and film, fixing time, dodging and burning in under the enlarger...to wrap it up: it is a fucking science.
But all the effort pays off when you have a look at your prints, maybe it takes 50 tries to get a print that is perfect and you waste a shitload of expensive photo paper...but hell, it's worth it! The feeling of seeing the picture form and develop in your hands is something unique. OK you get it, I am maybe a bit enthusiastic about analog photography and developing so I will stop the hymn here.
After I had the pleasure to work in a professionally equipped darkroom during the past year when being abroad, I just had to try to build something alike at home. So I spent a few weeks getting together and building all the stuff you need for a basic darkroom. Analog photograph is a drug (maybe it has to do with the chemicals?) and I had to get my dose again...
Below you can follow the progress of the darkroom with the elements explained seperately:
|After painting the walls and moving the sockets, the cellar was ready for more changes...|
|...like a pump and a sink. Running water is one of the key elements of the darkroom: for washing prints and films.|
|Work in the darkroom happens under red light or in complete darkness. Therefore the window on the right upper side was made completely light-tight.|
|The finished darkroom.|
|Photographic paper gets exposed under the enlarger. The negative is being put in the head of the projector, then negative picture gets thrown onto the white working plate where the photo paper is waiting for exposure.|
|On the left: chemicals and equipment for processing films. On the right: trays for developing and fixing prints.|
words & photos: David Tiefenthaler