By Lisa Rose (Crown ’72)
…with contributions from Henry Chu, Michael Broschat, Shira Tokuno, Larry Cohn, Paul Shaffer
When I arrived at Crown College in October of 1968, my most precious possession was a 35mm camera. I’d been smitten by black and white photography since I first held a copy of The Family of Man in the late ‘50s. When I arrived at Crown College, I was thrilled to discover there was a darkroom in the basement of Harvey House, my dorm. That darkroom changed my life in so many ways and into the present.
It was a great time to be in a dark room. Black and white photography was extremely popular, and the work of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Wynn Bullock, Robert Capa, Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Roman Vishniac, Wayne Miller, Eugene Smith, and dozens more grabbed hold of me and never let go.
The darkroom was a magical place, the smell of the chemicals, the red glow of the safelight, the riveting experience of an image slowly appearing on the paper as the developer washed over it. Wishing the hands of the timer would move faster, but patiently waiting until the image was fixed before turning on the overhead light to see what you really had in front of you. Washing the print, drying the print, cleaning up the darkroom. Hours could pass, you might walk out at dawn.
It appears that my memories or lack of them is matched by the other five photographers whose work you see on this website: Henry Chu (my teacher), Michael Broschat, Larry Cohn, Paul Shaffer, and Shira Tokuno.
Larry Cohn: I had no formal training so learned on the fly. The first time I was in the darkroom under the red safelight, looking at a blank piece of paper in the developer tray, and like magic an image slowly materialized. It was enthralling. And I had the same feeling every time thereafter. An amazing confluence of chemistry and art that no amount of megabytes, RAW files, NIC filters, Lightroom sliders, and Photoshop layers can ever replace.
Shira Tokuno: Yes! The magic of an image slowly appearing, the smell of the chemicals, the glow of the red light and how bright the world was after leaving the darkroom, how tired I was after a long session! I think we’ve lived in the best of times to be alive and have been able to experience so much.
My memories of the Harvey House darkroom are both vivid and hazy. I remember its location, the layout of the counter, the long sink with its wooden racks beneath the trays, enlargers, bottles and bottles of chemicals. But other details are gone.
Henry Chu: I think we agree that it was set up for black and white, silver-based photo processing. Why B&W? It was an easier process and did not require a lot of equipment.
None of us remember exactly when or how the darkroom started, who started it, or how it was funded. Henry has evidence that it was operating in 1967/68.
We think we paid dues, and a few of us remember being responsible for maintaining the facility although everyone was responsible for cleaning up their messes and leaving the darkroom in working order for the next photographer. I specifically remember being the darkroom manager for a while. I think that entailed collecting fees–though I have no idea what I did with them–and making sure the signup sheet was current.
There was a signup sheet on the door where you could schedule several hours at a time. Because so much time was required to set up, take down, and clean up, you usually needed at least two hours for each session.
We remember at least one enlarger, an Omega B-22, and perhaps a second enlarger. The darkroom had a large timer perched on a shelf above the sink to time each step of development, a safelight, many trays, thermometers, and plastic developing tanks, although many of us bought our own stainless steel tanks. That was a big purchase in those days but it seemed necessary to ensure absolute cleanliness.
Of course, there was plenty of running water.
Each one of us bought, mixed, used, and disposed of our own chemicals. I remember visiting local pharmacies and requesting left-over brown glass bottles in which to store my chemicals. And, of course, each one of us bought our own photographic paper, a significant expenditure.
Henry Chu: Freestyle was the name of the store in Los Angeles. They carried Oriental Seagull paper. Cheaper than Kodak, Agfa, and Ilford.
There was a second room that might have had racks for drying film. Or it might have contained a large drum roller dryer and the equipment needed to mount photos. I think I recall the drum roller in the hallway, but maybe not. When using the large drum, you could produce a matte or glossy finish depending upon the way you placed the photograph. If the image faced the drum, the finish was glossy. If the image faced the canvas belt, the finish was matte (or this could all be a dream).
I vaguely remember a dry mounting press that we used to affix our prints to the matte board using tissue, heat, and pressure. This final step of mounting a favorite photo was a declaration of “I made this. I think it’s beautiful. I want others to see it.”
To this day, photography is a central thread in my life. I use a cell phone for expediency, but I use a modern version of a 35mm camera for my soul. In the last ten years, I’ve taken over 17,000 photos in my volunteer status at Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz County where I manage the social media and do most of the fundraising, always using photographs to attract attention and inspire support.