Rediscovering My Visqueen Darkroom

By August 30, 2016Blog
Sherman Oaks CA

(The first part of this post was written originally in 2008.)

Rich Murset and I built our first photographic darkroom in his backyard when we were both nine years old in Sherman Oaks, California.

We found some heavy, black visqueen plastic sheeting and a few 2x4s behind the garage. Rich’s dad had a heavy duty staple gun. We used the garage’s outside wall for a little structural stability, and the rest was a lean-to that often swayed in the breeze. The lawn served as our darkroom floor.

At about 10 feet square, the darkroom worked a lot better at night than it did during the day! Rich’s dad also provided us with a long orange extension cord that we fed out Rich’s bedroom window and through the back yard to the darkroom.

We borrowed an enlarger, easel, and safelight from Bryce. Bryce was 12 years old and had a lot more experience. He was a cool, nerdy kid—showing us 8×10 black and white glossies of spider webs and other stuff he had photographed and printed.

Golly, We Had Fun

From the age of nine until my mid thirties I’m certain I shot tens of thousands of frames of black and white film. I developed all of the film myself and made contact sheets in my various darkrooms. I also printed hundreds and hundreds of black and white prints. Sometimes, I would use tints and washes to color or antique them.

I used the same camera all of those years—a Pentax Spotmatic. The only bell and whistle it had was an internal light meter. Nothing else was auto. In many ways, that camera was my closest friend growing up and I kept it in perfect condition. Still have it today.

At some point in my thirties, life got harder and busier. I started shooting less. My eyesight wasn’t as good either which made it harder for me to focus each shot through the camera’s viewfinder.

I stopped using my camera.

For the following 20 years there was a photographic hodgepodge of stuff—mostly drugstore prints from one-time-use cameras that I didn’t have to focus.

Yesterday I had a few hours to kill walking around downtown Philadelphia with my first iPhone in hand. With help from a couple of easy-to-use apps, my phone is not only a decent camera, but it’s also a darkroom, art studio, archive, and publishing/sharing platform. And, I don’t need to look through a viewfinder to focus.

In a very short time I took a few dozen shots, then “developed”, cropped, uploaded, and shared them online—all from my phone.

The process wasn’t better, just different.

But the best part about it was, at least for a couple of hours yesterday, I felt like I was nine years old again—sweating out prints in our visqueen darkroom.

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Post Update: November 2016

Very soon after my wife and I visited my “second mom”, Mary Murset, she passed away. We were so glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy her hospitality and feel her good spirit that day as she talked about her vintage stove, her posterity, and the things she remembered from the many days I spent in her home during the 1960s and 70s.

We miss you, Mary.

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