Alas! Latent Images Will Henceforth Be Inkjetted

Lauren Stewart in darkroom test strips

In 1962 with the help of my friend Robert Hijar I made my first photographic print using an enlarger in the darkroom of what was then called Mexico City College on the road to Toluca, Estado de México. I have been in love with that process since and I have never lost that sense of wonder of seeing the latent image projected on photographic paper by the enlarger emerge slowly in the developer tray. Since 1962 with constant practice I became a very good printer and interpreted my negatives to my satisfaction.

In those long years I have made every possible mistake and discovered wonderful techniques from these errors.

In our first home in Arboledas, Estado de México, my darkroom was the bathroom in my shop. In my shop I practiced carpentry and had a bench saw. As you can imagine saw dust and clean negatives are in impossible opposition.

In our first home in Burnaby BC, I had a very large darkroom (it was comfortable. It was in the basement and it had its own bathroom which I only used for the purpose a bathroom was meant for. I remember I had a state-of-the-art (for then) phone with a speaker so I could attend to my negatives and prints and still answer the phone.

The Burnaby darkroom became an even better one in our Athlone home. But it was and is in a damp and very cold basement. I cough lots when I am in there. A portable electric heater has helped a bit.

At first, particularly in Burnaby I enjoyed listening to CBC Radio in the darkroom. I graduated to a cassette tape player and then in the last 18 years I have eschewed music and also smoking my pipe. The darkroom was unventilated and between caustic chemicals (in particular selenium toner) and mold I am surprised to be still in the land of the living and with the possibility of having some latent life ahead.

Alas! The darkroom will be no more in about two weeks. We are moving slowly to our new home. I do have a little studio to take pictures and I will process b+w film (in one of the three bathrooms) but the darkroom will be history. I am not all that depressed about it. I sort of look forward to learning the technique of ink jet printing on a good machine. And I do have a very good Epson scanner.

In the last few days I have been printing like mad using paper that was long taken off the market or the companies that made them are long gone. I have used Ilfomar, Ilfobrom, Cold Tone this and that, all kinds of Agfa papers and others. Some are so fogged I have thrown them away. Others are still extant and have produced some nice prints. Someone gave me a long time ago ten sheets of single weight 16x20 Agfa Brovira paper. For anybody who has ever dealt with a print that size in a developing tray, it is almost impossible not to dent it and to dry it flat is just about impossible.

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Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.