Good old days?

Remembering the days of chemicals and darkroom 

Warning - don´t read on if you dislike middle-aged men talking about the past!

Most things have their advantages and their drawbacks. I have been involved in photography since I was nine years old. I got my first camera in 1969 - a gift from my late father. It was a simple box-point-and-shoot camera. It had two adjustments - for overcast skies and for direct sun. No focus, fixed shutter speed and you could only buy one type of film for it. But I loved it - and I still have the prints from that first cassette of film.

The interesting thing about thinking back is, that I basically snapped photos for the exact same reasons then as I do now. I did it for fun and because I loved the world and wanted to hold on to it and show other people what I found great about it.

Later, when I was fourteen, I had bought myself a camera with better opportunities. An Agfa with a focus ring, shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/800 second, the possibility to buy all kinds of films and best of all good optics - glass with space enough to use a big aperture in order to let a lot of light into the camera. And I took lessons in photography at the local school in the evening. I was taught how to develop and print my own photographs. That opened a entirely new world to me. Now I was able to control my expression from idea to framed print on the wall.

Many were the evenings where I stood in a narrow room in the "red darkness" fiddling with films and chemicals, paper and trays.

I can still remember the significant smell of the chemicals - actually that makes me feel quite nostalgic. Nothing really compares with the exitement coming from anxiously looking down into the developer-tray with the white paper gradually showing more and more of your photograph. Did it work all right? How good was it? Did I succeed in producing a smashing photograph this time? Or would I have to do it all over again?

But then, as I grew up and needed to find a flat of my own, I couldn´t afford enough space to have a darkroom where I lived. I tried to use the bathroom with black plastic-bags taped to the windows and the equipment standing on the toilet with the lid down. Didn´t work out in real life, though. It was too difficult to find and unpack the stuff and then afterwards store it all again. And using a rented darkroom also used by others never appealed to me. I need to know exactly where things are in order to make a good workflow. So I fell back into being a snap-shooter again. That´s allright - but not really great. I lacked the control and exitement from the darkroom.

But then came the digital age. Mid nineties. The pc replaced the darkroom and I loved it. It was so much better - more possibilities, more of the control I needed for my expression.

Photoshop was the name of the game! Of course I knew that the decisive moment when pressing the shutter-release was still the most important of it all - but that hadn´t changed for a hundred years. The digi-thing was what brought me back to photography full scale.

I haven´t set foot in a darkroom for twenty years. But a few days ago I visited my local camera pusher, and in a remote corner of the shop, he had a display of darkroom stuff. The names of the boxes and equipment really made me think back. Nostalgia took over - to the extent that I went home wanting to make a diapositive film in photoshop. 

That can be done - of course. But the smell of the chemicals and the exitement at the developer-tray can´t be reproduced.

Think I´ll have to visit a real darkroom again some time soon! I wonder if I can still remember how to do stuff in the old-fashioned way.