Last weekend Kathy and I had a booth at the annual art fair in a park a few minutes away from the house. Operating a booth for three days, eight to nine hours a day is a lot more work than it may sound like. We don’t do many of these but we sell some prints and get into a lot of conversations about photography with people of various ages and backgrounds. The conversations are the most interesting part of the event.
There are invariably those who “used to do darkroom and film”, who have either converted to digital cameras (and many of these often say so apologetically or with a tinge of sadness) or had done it in their youths, which was decades previous, and talk about it with nostalgia and sometimes surprise that there is still film available. It surprises us that so many people believe that film is no longer made.
There are young people who have been exposed only to digital photography and who are often really impressed with the look of black and white silver prints, and as I usually carry a camera, intrigued by one of the 1960’s film cameras that we use at such events.
Last weekend was especially interesting as I talked to several people who wanted to, or were planning to get into film photography and asking questions about darkroom requirements and where to get materials and equipment. I gave a primer this morning for one of those contacts, on 4X5 film including loading holders, using a spotmeter, focusing and camera controls and processing negatives. This was for a man living in Mexico who has already purchased a Beseler enlarger and is picking up equipment here in the states to take back to Mexico. This evening another new contact came by and we took him to the darkroom and showed him what he needed to get. His Leica M3 arrives on Monday and he is eager to start a new phase in life, taking black and white images and learning to print them. For a rainy and cold Saturday, it was very busy.
While these two guys were, I guess, in their late 40s or early 50’s, another contact from the weekend was a thirty something with background in 35mm film processing and printing but who wants to renew his photo work in large format. Once he gets his equipment he will get in touch and we can give him the basics of shooting and processing large format film. There was another young guy who was, I think, a war vet who expressed interest in a platinum print we displayed and had a friend who was already working in platinum. As Spokane is no major metropolitan area these folks, with others who asked about how difficult it would be to set up a darkroom has me thinking that something is in the wind.
And it smells like stop bath. In the last six months or so we have had 4 students from our photo workshops who have committed to setting up black and white darkrooms. These were all women.
The sweet irony of the so-called collapse of film photography is that this is a great time to set up a darkroom at home because there is so much used equipment available. First of all, there are the darkrooms of those who were printing in the 1960s and 1970s who are either feeling too old to continue, or who have switched to digital, or who are dead! Widows have been a good source of photo equipment, and I don’t mean that to sound macabre. We have heard from widows whose husbands loved photography and their cameras and just wanted to find a good home for it all, and who tearingly talked of their husbands devotion to the media.
Places like the local “craig’s list” have been good sources for often complete darkrooms for very little money. Sometimes the darkrooms have included camera outfits like the one of our students found that included a Mamiya TLR outfit. My response to enquiries this last weekend was just like that: “This is a great time to get a darkroom together.”
Just to add to the point of how much equipment is available locally, I have a Beseler 4X5 enlarger under a blue tarp outside up against the darkroom wall and a Beseler 6X7 enlarger under another tarp sheltered on the front porch! I did not have to purchase either of them. Our home’s storage areas are full already, hence the tarps. We have set up 2 darkrooms for two boys in our family, a freshman and a sophomore in high school. Just a couple weeks ago two ladies who run a junk-recycling shop called us in to help them sort a bunch of darkroom materials that had been donated; two complete darkrooms and more. The plethora of equipment may look to some to be a sign of the demise of film photography. To me it looks like so much potential. And after 3 days of conversations at the art fair I am even more convinced.