And so I became an acolyte in the Temple of Kodak. Like a convert, I embraced the rituals, spending hours under the soft amber lights, holding beakers like chalices, head bowed over trays in worshipful anticipation. There was a Zen-like comfort to these processing and printing sessions, which calmed me. I would go in after dinner and not emerge sometimes until sunrise — often with a few rolls of bulk-loaded Tri-X jangling in my makeshift camera bag, ready for new adventures.
I will admit to never being as enamored of the photographic process as many of my peers, and while I never found as much peace in the darkroom as my peers, I did find camaraderie and inspiration.
I almost always printed with others around in my early days and, for a short time I worked at a chain of weekly papers in Virginia. Our darkroom had two enlargers and there were three shooters, all with the same deadline. Standing in that red glow, waiting for your turn, peaking into the trays of gently rocking Dektol, I learned more about photography than I suspect I realize even now.
We talked tech, of course, but what we were really doing was honing our craft. You loved to see what each other got, because that was the bar you wanted to breech. You wanted to have the best basketball photo, the best portrait, the best spot news. And when I got beat, I tried a little harder. Worked my angles a little more. Asked a better question and got some better access.
Now, with photojournalists working out of their cars, I think we have lost some of that. Sure, we have online gathering places full of forums and easy ways to share our images, but to me, this old ink stained wretch, it’s just not quite the same.
How do we get that back? Or, maybe, the young’uns have it already and it’s just the geezers like me who don’t see it. That is, I admit, entirely possible.
The grass was not greener back then, I know that. Because there was no saturation slider on my Leitz enlarger …