Old School Still Works

Posted: July 10, 2013 - 09:08 , by ROM
Photography, Behind-the-scenes, Collections | Comments () | Comment
Film hanging on a string to dry.

When I was a little younger, my parents gave me a black and white film processing kit. I would wait until it was dark outside and then hang towels over the bathroom window and put another towel under the door. Next, I would mix my developer, stop bath and fixer chemistry in jars and place them in the bathtub "just so". I needed to be able to put my hands on them in the dark without spilling them, and pour them into my processing tank in the correct order. The luminous dial on my watch helped me to keep the film in the solutions for the correct amount of time. 8 minutes in the developer 1 minute in the stop bath and 3 minutes in the fixer. The lights could then be turned on and I would see the magic of silver images on acetate courtesy of George Eastman. After washing the film, I would hang with clothes pegs it up on a string tied to either side of the bathroom – a bit old school, but it worked. At college, I was to film drying cabinets, which sped up the drying process and kept dust off the film.

When we switched from shooting film at the ROM to digital, we gave our darkroom equipment to local high school and college photo clubs and courses. It was nice to free up some space and see the gear put to good use. Who would have thought that we would ever need some of the processing equipment again.

Until Tuesday, that is. The storm on Monday caused some water to leak out of a storm sewer drain clean-out and spray some of our film in our file room. As soon as the leak was discovered – some staff were still working in our area - remedial procedures were put into place to catch the water in a large bucket and mop up the floors. Tuesday morning I arrived to a sight of some disarray. Things had been moved into the studio, and plastic was hanging from the file room ceiling. After an inspection I found a box of about 200 4x5” negs and transparencies were wet and had to be washed and hung to dry. The few wet contact sheets were left open to dry. We still had a 16x 20 tray and some Foto-Flo we could add to the water to take care of the washing. A trip to the Dollar Store netted us some string and clothes pegs. We ran the string between two century stands in the studio. Again, a bit old school but it did the job.

When they were completely dry, each piece of film was put in a new archival envelope, labeled and filed. The string and clothes pegs were put away in the hopes of never having to repeat this process, and life in the studio was back to normal.