Reproducing photos not always such an easy process

Reckonings by Della Mallette, Sept. 2 Grand Forks Gazette.

I’m amazed at the volume of photos people have taken, emailed, and shared on social media in the last few weeks. Probably the least that’s been done with these photos is actually getting them printed.

To the youth of today, it’s normal; to me, not so much.

Consciously look at the photos in this paper: from photos of events, “mug shots” in column heads, small teaser photos in the “nameplate” on page one (and smaller yet, staff photos in the “masthead” on page four), to photos of houses, cars, trucks and merchandise in the ads. It’s easy today to use so many photos.

That certainly wasn’t always the case.

When I started in this career, it was in the late 1980s at the Boundary Community News.

Some long-time residents will remember the News, it was a newspaper owned and published by Bill Burnham. It wasn’t a leaflet, it was a newspaper with as many pages as the Gazette and as many features and photos. It was located in the back of Grand Forks Flooring, which at one time was a separate space.  It was a small office with a darkroom tucked in at the back.

The reporters took photos with film, and the rolls went straight back to John Semenoff in the darkroom.

Sometimes the salespeople took photos for their ads, but often they had prints of houses for sale, or vehicles, or whatever—those we tacked onto a board hanging on the hallway. Someone, usually Bill, would take photos of all the prints on the wall. Then John worked his magic in the darkroom.

When I moved to the Gazette in 1990, I was surprised by the sheer space, for one thing—at that time the Gazette used the entire building, and all three floors. The paper also had TWO darkrooms!

Upstairs was where the film was developed. I’m having a hard time remembering who was the darkroom tech at that time. I believe Herb Noseworthy had retired from the Gazette by then. Was it Gary Trent? I think Sarah Wyatt joined us after I started.

(She was patient enough to teach me a bit, but what she made look easy, wasn’t. And I was scared to death of ruining a film strip—we couldn’t pop the camera card back into the computer to re-download our photos.)

All the prints that needed reproducing, such as house photos for real estate ads, were done in the basement darkroom. How clearly I remember that basement! If you didn’t knock yourself senseless on the low ceiling, you made it to the darkroom to manhandle a LARGE camera with a steel tray so heavy you were lucky you didn’t break a wrist if it slipped on you.

You put the original photo in one end of the camera on a plate with a glass cover, and turned it up to face the camera. If I remember right, it was there that you set the percentage you wanted the image reproduced at. On the other end, you set the exposure time, placing special  paper in the heavy tray, and flipped that up. Hit the button, and very bright lights blasted for the desired time. The bulbs were ultra-sensitive, with a price to match.

No, you weren’t finished. Next it was over to the PMT machine. PMT stands for photomechanical transfer, a method of producing photographic prints or offset printing plates from paper negatives by a chemical transfer process rather than by exposure to light.

The machine wasn’t big: no more than two feet wide and a couple inches deep, it held chemicals and a set of rollers. The paper from the big camera was put together with another type of paper (don’t expect me to get too technical here, I think you can guess I stole the PMT description from the Internet!) and through the rollers the two went. The image transferred, and a negative image becomes a positive image.

Did you know it wasn’t until 1995 that the Kodak DC40 and the Apple QuickTake 100 become the first digital cameras marketed for consumers? That’s only 20 years ago. I reckon I don’t feel so old after all.