The Pandemic, the Darkroom, and Me

After deciding I wanted to do more with photography than take pictures of the garden, I joined a community darkroom, The Photographer’s Studio (TPS) in May 2019. Membership isn’t cheap, but I was drawn to the range of classes offered and a chance to meet experienced photographers.  

My first class was a three-hour color development class. About seven people came, and during class breaks, I got tips on books to buy, had an interesting conversation with a photojournalist, and got to see a Mamiya camera up close. It was wonderful!

I signed up for a B&W darkroom class that began in June 2019 and had a lot of fun developing and printing. Again, my classmates were an excellent source of tips and information. It was during this class that I came to realize I was inclined toward still life photography.  

After the class ended, I worked on my development skills and discovered that I enjoyed the time spent in the darkroom, adjusting the prints, and watching them spring into view. During fall and early winter, I made plans for darkroom time—pushing film, making various sized prints, learning dodging and burning. I even shopped for specialized papers.  

 Beyond the darkroom, the studio offered classes on studio lighting, printing techniques, scanning, digital printing, along with social activities such as photo walks. Then came the pandemic. 

I had long before decided commercial B&W development was too expensive. I gladly paid the membership fee because, as a member, I could develop an unlimited amount of film and print as often as I wished. But then everything shut down. Necessity being the mother of invention, I bought Cinestill Df96 monobath to develop the exposed film I had accumulated. Then, there was a small sale on scanners, so I bought an Epson v600 and started black and white development. But, that still left color as a problem. 

The darkroom became available again in April, but with social distancing. So, classes and social interactions were no more. Initially, I avoided color development because it seemed too complicated. However, the Df96 process was straightforward; therefore, after spending a few months with no prospects for doing color, I decided to try the Cinestill 2-step color kit. The kit arrived in May, and since then, I have developed eight rolls of color film and 14 black and white with great results. 

My TPS membership expires next month. I have no idea when classes and social activities might resume. At first, I was sure I would renew. But, having a room that is fast becoming a dedicated still life studio and a basement space that can be converted to a darkroom is making continued membership less appealing. I have a decision to make, and, more and more, it looks as if the basement darkroom will win. Should things work out and classes resume, I might sign up for a class or two. And although I am grateful for my experience as a member, I have learned enough to experiment independently with some confidence. 

When I bought that 7000i, no one could have convinced me that, 18 months later, I would have a studio space and be daydreaming about a darkroom. Along with everyone else, I yearn for a time when the misery of this pandemic is behind us. Sadly, this may be nothing more than wishful thinking. I’ll make images, bide my time, and be hopeful. So much has changed…including me. 

5 Comments

  1. As usual your knowledge of the different cameras in a brief time is astounding. …continue with your newly discovered world of photography, paintings, and still life’s this is amazing work that u do your language and description of the work places people like me right there thanks.

  2. Touching post Jerome. I understand your dilemma. Perhaps this experience has taught you to try new things! I can remember reading over and over how hard color film was to develop – only to find it just as easy as black and white. Glad you got over that hurdle too.

    1. Author

      Thank you. I try to find whatever lesson might exist in any adversity, so there is truth in your observation.

  3. If you can do everything you want to do at home, it does make paying that membership hard to justify. I suppose after the pandemic that membership might put you in touch with other photographers, though, which could be fun.

    1. Author

      Quite true. But, the loss of access to the darkroom and studio bothers me much less than what that loss represents in terms of how life has changed. What does “normal” going forward?

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