He told me there was a play going on, but that if I was quiet I could come in and develop. I made my way to the LA Photo Center after driving around in circles a bit, the center is somewhat hard to find. It is on 4th street but a section of the street that T's off on both ends. All I had was the address and I didn't feel like looking in my Thomas Guide so I just drove around between 3rd and 6th street until I found it.
The LA Photo Center used to be one of Los Angeles' 3 publicly funded darkrooms, but in these digital times, the city doesn't see much of a use for public darkrooms so it privatized it. The Photo Center is now operated by a non-profit group and run by a fellow named Ray [full name to come]. The LA Photo Center was at one time entirely dedicated to Photography, but is now mostly taken over by a community theatre company.
Ray greeted me at the gate and we walked over to the darkroom, entering through the back as not to disturb the play in progress. The main room of the darkroom has over dozen various enlargers in semi-private enlarging stations with a 8'x12' stainless steel sink in the center of the room. Off to the side is a dark closet for loading film onto reels for processing with stacks of both plastic and steel reels and canisters in both 135 and 160.
I locked myself in the closet and turned on the safe light (which isn't actually a safe light for film, but does help you see in the closet before you open your film). I arranged 2 stainless steel canisters and 3 reels for easy access and then I popped open my first film canister and spooled out the exposed film. I tried for about 10 minutes to get the film onto the stainless reel, but in the end I searched around in the dark for a plastic reel and wound it up on that and then put it into a plastic canister. I repeated the process with the other 2 rolls and then exited the closet. Luckily Ray asked me if I had inserted the light tubes, which I had not, and it was back into the closet to put those in.
With my film safely inside the daylight developing canisters we looked up my film on the chart and mixed some developer. The temperature was a few degrees off, but we compensated on the developing time. I started the first roll and once I was on to the fixing stage, I started the other two rolls. The quick recap on developing technique from Ray coupled with the helpfully posted film developing steps helped me through the process without a hitch. At the end I opened up the canisters and out came 3 rolls of nicely exposed and developed shots of refineries.
After about 10 minutes hanging in the heated film dryer I pulled them out and cut them into strips suitable for contact printing. I took the strips and put them into a contact frame atop a piece of RC paper, set the timer and then turned on the enlarger lamp. After a few seconds the enlarger switched off and I took the paper and dipped it into the developer tray. About a minute later my images took form on the paper and a few minutes after that I took the paper from the developer to the stop to the fix to the wash.
There is something really amazing about seeing your photos come to life through your own actions. I totally lost track of time and ended up not getting out of there until a bit after midnight. I am looking forward to my next trip down to the LA Photo Center.
Los Angeles Photo Center
2332 W 4th St.
Los Angeles CA 90057
Cost: $35/year membership fee - $5/hr darkroom fee (includes chemicals and use of equipment... paper not included)