The Walls

I get points for style for converting these pot lights - originally meant to hold safelights for black-and-white printing - to accent lights using colored compact fluorescent bulbs.
I get points for style for converting these pot lights – originally meant to hold safelights for black-and-white printing – to accent lights using colored compact fluorescent bulbs.

Readers of my social blog know that I recently moved from one office, formerly the darkroom, to another office, formerly composition, at work. I talked about the work it required and a bit of the history of my workplace. One aspect I didn’t explore much is how I make my work environment feel like home.

When I first arrived at The Ada News in late October 1988, I was fairly impressed with my new darkroom. Despite being neglected and mismanaged, it had originally been constructed by a skilled carpenter with a fair amount of foresight. The tops of the cabinets had overhangs in which ports were milled to hold real Kodak safelights, which for years held the standard type OC amber-colored safelight filters so familiar to every photographer who printed black-and-white images from film.

This is my darkroom just four months after I arrived in Ada. As you can see, I hadn't yet decorated at all, and the space doesn't really look like home. Also note the Omega D2 enlarger. I lobbied for a replacement and got a Beseler 23CII not long after this image was made. (Click it to big it.)
This is my darkroom just four months after I arrived in Ada. As you can see, I hadn’t yet decorated at all, and the space doesn’t really look like home. Also note the Omega D2 enlarger. I lobbied for a replacement and got a Beseler 23CII not long after this image was made. (Click it to big it.)

Readers might be curious why safelights were amber, and it’s because most black-and-white photographic paper is dichromatic, meaning it is sensitive to two colors, green and blue, but not red, so it could be safely handled (for reasonably short periods) under the amber safelights. The dichromatic properties were refined over the years in the form of multiple-contrast papers (Kodak called theirs Polycontrast, and Ilford called their Multigrade), which used two emulsions, one high contrast and one low contrast, so the photographer could control contrast by filtering out green or blue light. It worked pretty well, though some photographers, including me, felt that single-contrast papers offered an edge in tonal quality.

This seven-panel panograph was made in my darkroom sometime in 1990, just before I added a color enlarger. As you can see, it looks a lot more like home than it did at the beginning of 1989. (Click it to big it.)
This seven-panel panograph was made in my darkroom sometime in 1990, just before I added a color enlarger. As you can see, it looks a lot more like home than it did at the beginning of 1989. (Click it to big it.)

The countertops featured two extensions that held an enlarger and a paper processor, so the photographer could stand between them. When I first came to Ada, the enlarger was a ratty Omega D2 of 1960s vintage, which I replaced almost immediately with a Beseler 23CII.  The processor was the ubiquitous Kodak Ektamatic. Although the Ektamatic processor would ingest any paper with an developer-incorporated emulsion (meaning it had developer in it, so all it needed was to be “activated”), it was intended to use Ektamatic SC paper, a single-weight, fiber-based, developer-incorporated stock that came out of the processor in nine seconds after being activated and “stabilized” (not “fixed” like when you put most paper into the fixer tray) still damp and stinking of acetic acid, ready to be dumped on an editor’s desk and sent right to the production room. It was rough, but fast, which is what we needed for newspaper back then.

One of the first things I noticed and liked about my darkroom at The Ada News was this custom cabinet arrangement, which allowed me to stand between the enlarger and the processor with everything I needed within reach.
One of the first things I noticed and liked about my darkroom at The Ada News was this custom cabinet arrangement, which allowed me to stand between the enlarger and the processor with everything I needed within reach.

In 1991, my newspaper bought a used system for producing in-house color images for the daily, so I got a Road Warrior tank system for processing color film, and a Fujimoto enlarger with a dichroic color head for printing it. I was never as good at printing color as black-and-white, since I only made three or four color prints a week. Still, I could make a passable print, and it was fun.

Mention of 1991 bring us back to the subject of making my workspace feel like home. Starting less than a year after arriving in Ada, I began sticking photos on the walls and cabinets of my darkroom. By 1991, the walls were covered with everything from news and sports to images I thought expressed my fine art skills. But all was not well at our little newspaper. We had an editor no one liked, kind of a bully, who had no talent. A couple of reporters quit that spring. By July, I felt like I’d had enough, and told that editor, “I’m taking all the rest of my vacation starting today.” I went into my darkroom and ripped every print off the walls and threw them in the trash, left the building and drove to Tulsa, where I interviewed with The Tulsa Tribune. I was one of several experienced photographers applying for that job, and it was probably just as well I didn’t get it, since the Tribune closed just six months later. (Which brings up the question: why would you hire anyone if you are going out of business in six months?)

The grain and tonal qualities of this black-and-white Kodak T-Max P3200 image from 1989 summon a look from a different era.
The grain and tonal qualities of this black-and-white Kodak T-Max P3200 image from 1989 summon a look from a different era.

When I returned after my vacation, that editor must have seen that I’d cleaned out before I cleared out, because he was much nicer to me.

Over the years I’ve had many different images on those walls, and when it came time this winter to move out of the old darkroom, one thing I knew I wanted to do was make my new workspace as much like home as the old one was. In addition to quite a bit of cabinet and drawer space, my new office also has a large blue bulletin board that is covered with stains. Filling it with my images was twofold: it covered the stains, and it made the space into my space.

This is the wall of images in my new workspace. Filling it with images of everything from news to landscapes to portraits of my lovely wife makes my new workspace feel like home. (Click it to big it.)
This is the wall of images in my new workspace. Filling it with images of everything from news to landscapes to portraits of my lovely wife makes my new workspace feel like home. (Click it to big it.)
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