Speaking photography digital vs. darkrooms

Before there was color photography, there was black-and-white photography.

Early color film, processing and printing was expensive, much more expensive than black-and-white. Worse still, the quality of the images was often poor, so, the majority of photographs that were reproduced in print were black and white.

Most of the history of the first hundred plus years of photography was etched in monochromatic tones. Back then a photograph was a two-dimensional rendering of light and dark patches sprinkled with grey that recreated an image you had captured on film with your camera.

Rolling up your supply of 35mm Kodak Tri-X Pan Film and heading out on a photo assignment was an adventure. You would point, focus and click then forward to the next frame never knowing what had been captured. There was no screen to instantly view the photo as we now have on our digital cameras.

You would return from the event and enter a magical world of transformation where only a select few could gain admission. It was the darkroom. Here the film in your camera was carefully unrolled and developed. It was a time of anxious anticipation when you slowly agitated the film tank and waited for your images to appear.

Had you been careful and not exposed the film to any light? Had you properly set your camera for the light conditions? Did you get the catch, the basket or the sliding tag at home and was it in focus?

These questions always ran through your mind as you waited for the illuminated hands on the timer to reach zero.

After a quick washing, you could finally view your work and see the results.

You would develop the negative and on the light table you would find the photo you would like to print and insert it into the negative carrier. Place it in the photo enlarger and print it on a piece of photo paper. Then into the developer under the red lights you would wash the chemicals over the sheet and watch as the image slowly began to appear.

I miss the darkroom.

The smell of fixer permeated the room as contact sheets and hand-printed enlargements were produced behind closed doors. It was sort of a private club for the photographers and dark-room technicians even CEOs were forbidden access when the “IN USE” light was lit.

Since the advent of digital photography, the use of darkrooms and developing photos from negatives has become somewhat a thing of the past.

When I started taking photos, darkrooms were everywhere. They were in every newspaper and with sports photography most stadiums for professional and collegiate teams had their own darkrooms with wire transmission equipment to send the images.

Fellow TImes Leader contributing photographer Paul Kranjyak used to work for the Associated Press in their darkroom, I believe in Cincinnati’s old stadium. He too can recall the magic that was film.

Do not get me wrong; the modern digital camera is a wonder. The images we can produce now are amazing in clarity and quality.

By the same token the digital camera has stepped the professional photographer down from the lofty perch they held when there was a high degree of skill required to capture images.

I can recall my professor in college showing off his digital camera to the photographers in the darkroom. He said, “Boys, if they can perfect the autofocus on these things, we are all doomed like the dinosaurs.”

Those words proved quite prophetic. As I see the new generation lining the sidelines of events with their burst mode rolling off photos up to an amazing 40 frames per second I wonder how long it can be before we just videotape everything and then pull a frame off the high definition video for the still image.

I have come a long way since I first snapped images of Woody Hayes at the ‘Shoe in 1977 with my Minolta SR-T 101 with my MC Tele Rokkor PF 135mm.

I have done my fair share of shooting sporting events. While shooting college and professional sports can be exciting, I still enjoy being on the sidelines of high school games the best.

There, even though the job is a lot easier than it used to be, I am still appreciated.

The high school athletes and coaches appreciate my being there. My photos can be found on school bulletin boards and in scrapbooks all across the Ohio Valley.

I will take that honor over an AP award for the best burst mode photo of some prima donna millionaire professional athlete every time.

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com