Bill Pierce 
Nuts & Bolts 
"For the Darkroomless..."
I used to bemoan the fact that so many news photographers were shooting with electronic cameras. Ones that left them a record of their life with an image quality, at least currently, far lower than that provided by conventional film cameras. Then, I found out that a lot of photographers were cheating. They were double-shooting, an electronic camera for the boss, and a small film camera for themselves--if the situation warranted.

Reminds me of an acquaintance who was a triple-shooter, used to carry three 250 exposure Nikons--one for Time, one for Newsweek, and one for himself. He was a one-man picture agency, and the only triple-shooter I have ever known.

But he was shooting three film cameras. Today's double-shooter uses one electronic camera and one conventional film camera.

In this electronic world, fewer and fewer photographers have their own darkroom. No problem if you are a color shooter. Even photographers with their own color darkrooms often send out their film and reserve their darkrooms for printing. When you are on the road, almost anywhere you are, you can find a one-hour lab to process and print color negative. 

Truth is, I am a philistine. I think the computer and scanner, with their unique controls, already do a better job printing color images than the conventional lab. Large printers are usually beyond the means of most photographers. But a 10x15 print (or a little larger) can be done well by a $500 Epson printer. I don't think you need a darkroom if you double-shoot in color.

However, none of this does you any good if you are a darkroomless double-shooter who prefers black and white. I do. You can probably soup the film in your closet using a developer prepared from a liquid concentrate. (Every AP photographer used to be able to turn any motel bathroom into a passable darkroom. A few flushes for a newsworthy wash, 5 to 10 flushes for an archival wash.) 

What about prints? A custom lab? Your own darkroom?

I don't think many custom labs do a good job with black and white prints. I think the reason behind this is an economic one. Paper and the hourly wage of a good printer are high. Excellent exhibition prints often take a lot of both, and the customer won't pay. In my world, the best professional printing is done by individual printers who work for a handful of photographers and charge a lot. 

Your own darkroom? Yes, if you can afford good equipment and have the time to learn to print well. Even though expensive and time consuming, initially, to me it's the best way. However, I'm not going to tell some overworked, underpaid photographer who needs the money and time for something else that they've got to do it "My Way."

Here is my solution to the darkroomless, black and white double-shooter. You can process film in the kitchen sink. I've done a lot of that, and I hate it. In the last five months (much of which I haven't  been home and haven't had a darkroom) I have shot a lot of the Kodak TCN and Ilford XP2 black and white films that can be processed in color negative chemicals. Every single roll has been processed and printed at a local one-hour lab. I've walked into some mom-and-pop operations, where either mom or pop had disappeared, and still gotten good results.

The 4x6 prints that you get from the one-hour lab act as proof prints. The quickest way to get these prints is to have them made on color paper. Most labs advertise these prints as "sepia." I've gotten some interesting green and whites. I don't mind because I'm Irish and they were perfectly adequate proof prints.

The limited density range of the negatives is ideal for scanning. (The orangish-brown image tone gives more effective density when printing on conventional papers.) To some extent the computer, scanner and printer can replace the darkroom for even fine prints. I don't think black and white computer prints are yet the equal of conventional silver prints. Though, I do think they will be in the near future. Already we are seeing inks that are pigment-based and a lot longer lasting than conventional inks. And the computer equivalents of burning, dodging and bleaching can be much more specific.

So, if you are on the road a lot, need quick black and white processing and proofing, and your darkroom has been replaced by a computer, no problemo. Just think of your computer as the only darkroom that can also email crank letters.

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