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An Unexpected Image

03rd August 2022

A Miscue Turns a Photo Into a Favorite

During the 60’s my favorite pastime was photography.

Having only an after school part time job, I used used many techniques to make an expensive hobby more affordable.

I remember buying 100-foot long “bulk film” to reload 35mm cartridges into shorter five foot 36-exposure lengths. This was enough for 18 cartridges of film – enough for the summer season for about the same cost as buying 6 individual rolls of Kodak or Ansco film.

Next I learned how to develop my own film. I constructed a small darkroom in my parents’ basement where I would hang the still-wet film on a clothesline to dry. Not long after I earned enough to buy an enlarger. Wow, I was in photo heaven. The enlarger let me make my own prints and I would patiently watch the image slowly appear (under a safelight) in the developing solution. I was having all of this fun for a fraction of the cost of sending the spent film to my local photofinisher.

Mine was a hobby was like that of many others where you just seem to keep spending your earning for the latest gadgets – easel for holding photographic paper, new developing trays for bigger enlargements, paper dryers for drying prints, color drum for making color prints, etc. 

Perhaps you can now see that my association with photography goes back a very long time.

From all of those years spent in the darkroom in the 60s and 70’s there is one event that I remember well. It was a darkroom miscue that had a happy result.

But first a quick intro to how to develop a roll of 35mm black and white film:

In a dark, lightproof room, you remove the exposed film from its cartridge and slide it onto a metal reel. The reel is placed into a stainless steel tank with a specially designed top which lets you complete the development in normal room light. Pour the  developer solution into the tank for a designated time – usually 6 to 8 minutes and then pour the developer solution out of the tank . Next pour plain water into the tank for one minute to halt the film development and discard the water. Then pour in the final solution called fixer for 5 minutes. This desensitizes the film from light and makes the image permanent. Now it’s safe to remove the film from the tank and give it a final rinse wash in water for ten minutes.

These operations are done with all of the liquids – developer, water and fixer – at a temperature of 68 degrees F. On one occasion, I inadvertently washed a developed roll at a colder temperature. I wasn’t paying attention and unknown to me at the time the final rinse water must have been a lot colder. 

I removed the film from the reel and hung it on a line to dry. But when I finally looked, several of the frames looked very weird

The meshlike pattern that was imbedded into the film surface is called reticulation. Although this was result of an error in development I think that the resulting image of our first dog Candy is a winner.

Sometimes a mistake turns into a favorite.

Written by: Arnie Lee

NOTE: This is a reprint and was originally written in 2005.
I remember very clearly when Dad would pull out his large twin lens reflex camera, usually around a holiday, birthday or family event. He would lower his head and look into the lens hood while his hand would reach down to grasp the knurled knob on the camera’s side. I would see the bellows move back and forth as he zeroed in on his focus. Then he’d snap and the shot would be done. We’d wait weeks, sometimes months, to see the results. After all, a full roll of film had room for 12 negatives!
When the film was finally developed, we were thrilled to see the results. Here are two photos, one from the 40’s and another from the 50s, but they both share the same “feel” – the subjects are dressed up for a special occasion, some of them are posed comfortably and others more stiffly, but always in full black and white.

Aunt Emma, Aunt Millie and Mom circa 1940

I took this family picture as a youth circa 1957
In the 50’s, color photos were reserved only for special occasions – owing to the higher expense. While Dad sometimes shot color, the cost of the film and print processing was too extravagant for normal use. But for those special times when he did use color, he would send the exposed film to one of the discount processing services to save money. The downside: developing by mail took an additional week to complete.
I cut my teeth on Dad’s older twin lens reflex (TLR) and a Polaroid Swinger. Using the twin lens reflex was an exercise in patience. With only twelve exposures to a roll of 120 film, you made sure that you had a good shot before you released the shutter. With the Swinger, it was a blast to see instant photography. With today’s digital we’ve come full circle; we have another form of instant photography again.
As a youngster with sparse earnings, I made do with Dad’s second TLR and the Swinger that served as my equipment. I came into luck when Uncle Tom, who was in the Air Force at the time, agreed to buy a camera for me at a huge discount on the Air Force Base PX. This became a lesson in patience: I’d wait a whole year until he returned from service overseas to get my hands on a state of the art Canonflex RM SLR camera.
In the mean time, I learned to develop film and make my own prints. A small corner in the basement became my darkroom. I covered the windows to keep out the light, fashioned a processing area from discarded planks of wood and used Mom’s washroom sink to provide water for the chemicals. I spent many nights mixing developer, stop bath and fixer; processing film and making black and white prints. I started with a basic Testrite enlarger and later graduated to a fancy Durst 606 enlarger with a built-in color filter drawer. I was so immersed into this hobby that soon I learned to make my own color prints. It would take take three hours of preparation to make the first color “test” print and perhaps six hours to get an acceptable “final” color print. I can hardly believe that I had so much patience back then.
To further my interest, something wonderful happened. Mom arranged for me to get a part time job with John Margotta, her past schoolmate who was now a professional photographer. For three years, after school I would head to John’s studio to learn the photography business. In the studio I was his assistant. I would hold lights and set up equipment for weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, birthdays, modeling shoots, funerals (yes, funerals) and more. I learned about lighting techniques, portrait techniques, posing techniques, action techniques, view camera technqiues and wedding cake cutting techniques too. And of course John taught me many darkroom techniques. I used most of my earnings to purchase more equipment.
My photographic education continued. During high school I proudly served on the yearbook staff as one of the three student photographers with access to sporting and entertainment events. In the following examples, you’ll see that we continued taking black and white photos since the cost of color was prohibitive at the time.

The friendly cheerleading squad of
New Rochelle High School circa 1967

Motown’s Four Tops performing
at New Rochelle High School circa 1966
During my college years, I completed my formal photo training by working at two different high end processing labs servicing the Madison Ave advertising agencies. In the 60’s, a process called “dye transfer” was used to make photographic reproductions for the high quality magazines like Vogue and Harper. Here is where I learned processing from the ground up: making color separations from original transparencies for printing using cyan, magenta and yellow dyes. Despite commuting between my home in New Rochelle and the photo labs in New York City and the long working hours, I thoroughly enjoyed the job as I continued to learn different aspects of photography.
At college I taught at the photography club and introduced my girlfriend to darkroom techniques. By the way, Kris is now my wife and hates the darkroom. I was a staff photographer for several university organizations and earned extra cash by photographing fraternity and sorority events.
Following college, Kris and I were married and shortly thereafter, photography took a backseat to raising a family, putting bread on the table and becoming involved in the software industry. Although I took and accumulated thousands of photos during this period, the bulk of these were of family faces and of the scenic vacation variety.
Skip forward 30 years to the mid-1990s. My company Abacus, was involved with flight simulation software and I’m taking more and more aviation related photos. I now find myself dabbling in the new world of digital photography. The stars are finally aligned and I’m ready to marry two of my long time interests: photography and aviation. With digital, the equipment and processing techniques are radically different from conventional film photography.
Several years ago, I received a surprise email from John Margotta, my photography mentor from the 1960s. I was happy to hear that at an age of 80+, he’s still immersed in photography. He’s produced some artistic renditions of still life using his “Photoshop-equipped darkroom”. His approach to photography is a lesson that hi-tech isn’t reserved only for the young.
Lucikly, I’m finding that most of the basics that I started learning 50+ years ago are still relevant. After all of these years, I remain very excited and passionate about my love of photography.