Quarantine Darkroom

Filed to: feature

Photography just might be the perfect pandemic past-time.

I’m storing spent chemistry in empty wine bottles and long-gone containers of orange juice and ginger ale. I’ve fashioned a lens board from the flaps of a discarded cardboard box. We’re all finding ways to strap together some kind of a life now, under quarantine. I’m extremely lucky to be able to piece together the make shift setup I’ve concocted in the basement of our house. I don’t for one second take for granted the privilege I have to be where I am, to have hoarded so many darkroom supplies for so long, and to have friends and colleagues in the photo world to help me patch this whole operation together. Sprint Systems shipped me chemistry, and I got a care package of film, trays, tanks, reels, and paper from the Gowanus Darkroom. I’m have my Yashica-D twin lens, and I’m trying to stay motivated.

Everyday I see the work of photographers out covering this crisis. I am so proud of them, and scared for them too. But they believe in this medium as much as I do – in it’s power and importance. They face what we can’t so we can see it through their eyes. That single degree of separation makes all the difference. I go outside to photograph and all I see are bare trees and dead leaves. They say spring is coming, but in black and white it still looks like a cold, raw, winter.

I processed two rolls of film last night. I wasn’t careful or precise about it. I measured hastily and didn’t check if my chems were up to temp. We don’t have a thermometer here, and if we did making sure the developer had reached 68 degrees would be our last priority. I processed one roll at a time because I can’t fit two 120 rolls in my single tank. Even though I know I’m not supposed to, I re-used the developer so I have less chemistry to figure out how to dispose of. We live on the Delaware River, and I care about what I pour down the drain. So my second roll is dense, with deep blacks and only hints of highlights, but when the sun goes down and it gets dark enough in the basement, I will still make prints from it.