I haven’t worked in a photographic darkroom for more than four decades. Some of the skills are there in my memories, and there are negatives and prints tucked away in shoe boxes to remind me of the time I was trained to develop and process black & white images. That was at the Clinical Research Centre (CRC), a facility in Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, London, not too far away from the largest Kodak factory in the UK (It survived with film production until 2016.) I worked at CRC for a year before completing my undergraduate degree in Applied Biology.
Gas and photographs
The connection between research and darkroom labs is an interesting one. A team led by Dr. David White was investigating the molecular mechanisms of anaesthesia using Photobacterium phosphoreum, a marine bacterium that exhibits bioluminescence. In brief, making the lights glow involves a compound called luciferin, which is oxidized in a reaction involving luciferase, an enzyme. Large vats of this organism would glow boldly in the dark until exposed to an anaesthetic gas called halothane. And then the light went out until the gas was stopped, then it would return. Taking sequences of photographs was part of the gathered evidence for the research program.
Rewind to the analogue days
Like many photographers, I switched from analog to digital: from SLR (Zenit-E and Yashica) to DSLR (Canon and Fujifilm). And then, last year, I bought a Leica M6 and Canon EOS 1V. After getting some rolls processed in Calgary by Paul Stack and scanning myself, my desire to develop my own film grew. That’s how I connected with SAIT.
SAIT Black & White Darkroom Techniques
I enrolled in the B&W Darkroom Techniques course, run by George Webber at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and had the first class last week. In future weeks, I will write about some experiences and the techniques I have learned (or relearned) and share a selection of the images I have made.
SAIT provides the stainless steel variety made by Hewes, a brand that George Webber calls “the Leica of developing reels”. Although my earlier experiences were with the rotating reels made by Paterson, that was so long ago, I am comfortable with the change, but know that I need to get a few more practice runs in before venturing into the dark and getting my first roll of Ilford HP5 Plus film developed tonight.
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