The Darkroom Cookbook at 22

A lot has changed since the first edition of The Darkroom Cookbook in 1994. But for those who work with large format and silver some things never change. The exuberance one feels standing on a hilltop watching for the magical moment when the clouds and light align, the feel of the cable release under your thumb, and the sound of the crisp click when the exposure is made. The thrill of watching the print from that exposure, made weeks or months earlier, slowly forming for the first time in a tray of developer, knowing that print will be unlike any other you will ever make from this negative—that this is your handcrafted work carrying your unique signature, a signature that is in part your choice of film, paper, and developing formulas.

I learned the craft of photography from highly skilled photographers, all of them having learned from photographers before them. Frank and Daughtee Rogers, Rodger and Cornelia Davidson, Canadian photographer, Boyd Wedlauffer, and a woman who worked freelance for Time and Life magazines, Helen, whose last name I have never been able to remember. I would carry Frank’s Calumet large-format camera mounted on a Majestic tripod around his studio and set his Ascor strobes, run prints through trays for Daughtee and Helen, hang E3 processed transparency film for Rodger and Cornelia, and accompany Boyd to photograph large-format landscapes. My payment, in full was to watch and listen. And take notes.

The Darkroom Cookbook is a result of those notes stuffed in the drawers of my darkroom. When you read the DCB you are learning from Frank, Daughtee, Rodger, Cornelia, Boyd, and Helen, along with others I have known along the way, including Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, and Edna Bullock, Wynn Bullock’s widow and a photographer in her own right. Beginning in the third edition I included techniques from some of my associates in the field, among them Bruce Barnbaum, John Sexton, Rod Dresser, Henry Gilpin, and Richard Garrod, to name a few.

But something has changed in photography. In 1994 it was estimated that eighty-percent of darkroom workers were men. Today, at the very least fifty-percent are women. Other than France Scully-Osterman, women had no overt representation in the DCB. In part the fourth edition is an attempt to correct that omission.

The Darkroom Cookbook

Click here to order a copy of The Darkroom Cookbook 4th edition directly from the publisher.

But there is more to the fourth edition than the inclusion of women photographers. There is the recognition that alternative processes have become of increasing interest. Besides the intrinsic beauty of vintage processes, they don’t require a dedicated darkroom. In the fourth edition you will find two very interesting alternative processes. One that has rarely been published, MordanVage, submitted by Christina Z. Anderson. The second is the creation of Alexandra Opie and has never been published, Silver Mirroring.

There are many other additions to the fourth edition, including a chapter on making enlarged digital negatives for contact printing. My personal favorite is Appendix 6, “Time Adjustment for Enlarging and Reducing Prints.” In my opinion this simple mathematic equation, taught me by Helen, is worth the price of admission.

To commemorate the release of the fourth edition I have created an online Darkroom Cookbook Forum where you can ask and receive answers to darkroom questions, or share your own expertise with others. You can order a copy of The Darkroom Cookbook 4th edition directly from the publisher, Focal Press.