Last month the last of the darkroom equipment finally left the Museum, nearly 2 years after we shut down the darkroom for good (the darkroom is now the Scan Lab and the film loading room is my office, complete with red light bulb over the door). More about that last piece of equipment later.
Anyone who did photography in the pre-digital days and spent time in the darkroom remembers the magic of developing and printing with a great deal of fondness, even as we conveniently forget the lingering smell of chemicals in our clothes and hair. Digital is a new kind of magic, but I suspect that there will always be photographers who develop and print their own images. It’ll continue to be an art.
The Brooklyn Museum has had a darkroom for decades–as early as the 1930s–so it was a bittersweet farewell both to well-worn enlargers that had seen many decades of use and to more recent equipment like film and print processors. We were able to sell most of the equipment and supplies (in the process helping to fund new digital cameras) and also donated some to educational programs — Stickball Printmedia Arts, the photographic program at The Drew Hamilton Learning Center of the Children’s Aid Society, and Bard College‘s Photography Department.
We found ourselves at the end of the process with the highest-tech, newest enlarger still in storage. The Zone VI enlarger would handle 5×7 and 8×10 negatives and was definitely professional grade–not something that students or hobbyists would find useful. What to do? Our last-ditch ad on photo.net brought just a few inquiries. Photographer Michael Halsband came by looking for some parts for his Zone VI and got intrigued. The Museum’s Zone VI enlarger is now in his studio and is being readied for use by visiting Cuban photographers sponsored by the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba. A donation that made all of us very happy–and I can’t think of a more fitting coda to our darkroom project, especially just as Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art is about to open. Michael’s comment says it all: “it is very cool to have the enlarger come from the Brooklyn Museum and continue to be used to for creative work. ”
I wish I had some photos of Michael disassembling the enlarger and packing it into his car. A Zone VI is really large and complicated , but he made the process look easy. Photographers never cease to amaze me with their ability to deal with any kind of equipment — on top of taking amazing pictures. Not having any Rube Goldberg Zone VI candids to offer, here’s an offering from our amazing photography collection, a candid from another time:
Deborah Wythe manages the Brooklyn Museum’s Digital Collections and Services department (the “Digital Lab”), coordinating digital imaging activities museum-wide, including the photo studio, scan lab, digital asset management, and rights and reproductions. Before moving to the Digital Lab, Deb was the Museum Archivist, where she managed the Museum’s historical records and worked on several technology-driven projects. Deb edited the new edition of Museum Archives: An Introduction, published by the Society of American Archivists in 2004, and wrote the chapters on the museum context, appraisal, description, records surveys, and photographs. Prior to joining the Brooklyn Museum staff, she worked on the Steinway Collection at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and, as an intern, organized the records of the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In her previous life, before discovering archives work (she has always been a museum maven), Deb earned her Master’s and PhD in musicology at NYU. She still studies the piano.