One of the oldest darkroom on the West Coast, the Darkroom Lab has been around for almost fifty years. Its manager Curt, has been in charge since 1984 when he first moved to California and has been managing the shop ever since. Growing up with both parents photographers, in a house that served as a darkroom, Curt learned to navigate a dark room when he was eight years old.
"My mom breastfed me as she was processing film; it is kind of part of me."
Six years ago when the owner wanted to close down the lab, Curt rescued all the equipment and merged it with Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes, as they already used Darkroom Lab to out-lab their film. From 35 mm to 4x5 and enlargement they have been the precursors of film development on the West Coast. We spoke to Curt about his journey from his first experience developing film in his home of Wyoming, to a role with the Darkroom Lab.
Hello Curt, it's great to have you here at Lomography. Can you first tell us when the darkroom opened?
I moved to California in 1984, and the Darkroom was already open at that time. It had been a rental darkroom at one point and when I got there, we did only Black and White and there were a small camera store and darkroom supply store in front. I believe it had been open for 20 some years at that point. I started managing it around 1987 and when the owner wants to close about 6 years ago I got all the equipment and merged with Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes.
When and how did it go from an idea to an actual space?
When the owner the Darkroom wanted to close I knew that I had to keep it open and we had been the out-lab for Woodland Hills Camera already so it was a natural transition.
Have you seen an increase or a decrease in recent years?
There is definitely an increase in recent years. I believe that many people get into it because it is fashionable. There are, however, a lot of people that are kind of tired of the static and sterile feel that digital has. I respect that people want to be creative and film is a very creative endeavor. A good film photographer is really a photographer as opposed to a camera owner.
What are the services you offer? Is one more popular than others?
We do C41 and B&W processing, roll scans, drum scans, both machine and custom prints up to very large sizes. We do custom retouching and restoration, flatbed scanning, pretty much anything you could ask for and we can print from just about anything you give us. We do not do analog printing all prints are done from scans. Developing and roll scan is probably the most popular service.
Who is your main audience? Do you have a regular clientele or a more punctual audience?
We have a lot of student customers and customers that used us when they were students. We do a lot of printing for actors and bodybuilders for promo or for headshots. We have clients that have used our services for over 20 years and we value each and every one.
What are some of the challenges you face as a darkroom/lab?
All businesses face challenges. I was raised by photographers in Wyoming. My home was part house, part studio, and part lab. I started processing film when I was about 8 years old. I remember talking to my dad about the challenges I faced with film being used less when digital came out that he told me he remembered when color film came out, and he kept telling my mom "Well, we better figure out how to do this because people are going to want color now." Change is the only constant. Staying relevant is a challenge. Keeping people interested in being creative is a challenge. One of the main challenges a lab faces is finding employees that understand film. I am very fortunate to have an excellent DarkroomManager Leslie. She is a real film lover and a very good photographer. One of the things that really makes the DarkroomLab stand out is that Leslie and I both understand film. We both learned with film, we both respect that people using film are spending money and time and we make sure that we treat their film with the care and respect that it deserves.
Are you afraid that the analog wave might dissolve eventually?
I have seen a lot of changes when it comes to film. The darkroom used to process thousands of rolls of slide film a week. I am not afraid of the changes as I said I love the imagery and anything that gets people excites about imagery. I will change as the need dictates.
If you weren't in charge of a darkroom/lab, what would you be doing?
I am not sure, as I have been involved with photography and labs for most of my life. My mom breastfed me as she was processing film; it is kind of part of me.
Do you still have time to shoot? Do you have time to develop your own material?
I don't shoot as much as I would like to. I do a project from time to time as I get ideas in my head. I have thousands of my parents' 4x5 negatives that I am trying to get scanned and archived at the moment that is taking a lot of my extra time.
What are the measures you're taking to make your darkroom a sustainable/green environment?
Darkrooms have always had to reclaim the silver out of the chemistry. We also save all film leader etc that has no image and that is also run through the silver reclamation process.
As a darkroom, what advice would you give photographers based on your knowledge from the post-shooting side?
Metering is critical. Meter does not use automatic mode. Do not jump around to many different films. Learn how a film reacts in different lighting situations to understand its nuances. Then go on to another film to do the same thing with it. I love portraiture and respect a photographer that is good at it. Dealing with people getting them comfortable and real that is an art.
Finally, If any photographer has a question, how can they get in touch with you?
They can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To check out all of Darkroom Lab's services, head over to their website .