Mom in darkroom 1949

[Self-portrait and narrative by my mother]


My darkroom quickly evolved from a temporary enamel-topped table setup to a real counter 10 feet long with black inlaid-linoleum top. Black-lined drawers held photo paper. Cupboards above kept chemicals neat. The counter was built at desk height so that I could sit while printing. Jerry did it all. A stenographer's chair allowed me to scoot from printer or enlarger to tray to tray to tray. Jerry was teaching himself woodworking as I was learning photography. Since I didn't notice anyone teaching him, maybe he was holding a book in one hand while sawing with the other! However he did it, he became an expert and the doctor didn't mind having nice cupboards built into his back room.


I painted the room a dark rosy red and made traverse draperies of black to cover the one window. It was a warm womb for long Saturday afternoons with the Met playing softly on the radio. I totally lost track of time with the birthing of amazing black-and-white photos. Each was a miracle, over and over again. I'm as fascinated with them today as I was 56 years ago.


There was a small downside. As relatives and friends learned of my hobby they would press exposed rolls upon me to develop. I did a few. Oh, it was agony! Drudgery! Dreary, repetitive, unartful, bland photos. (Long before automatic cameras made even dumb photos at least in focus and properly exposed!)


Not all of the requests were refused. Jerry, smirking a little, produced a roll given him by his young brother Tony, who worked in a neighborhood beer store. Tony asked that I pul-eeze develop a roll for him. He'd been my booster since I met him as the 14-year-old son of my landlady, and he carefully kept track of telephone calls for me. His roll had been shot in the back room of the beer store of ladies of questionable reputation and groping young men, who were not exactly Ivy League! There wasn't any nudity, but a lot of hormones flowed! The props and background were strictly cases of beer. It would be pretty tame stuff by today's standards. But the photos were quite funny actually. If I can locate a negative later, I will share.


On another occasion Jerry produced a roll given him in strictest confidence by a handsome and successful young businessman in Grand Rapids, his customer. He implored Jerry to be absolutely discreet with the photos and negatives. I took it seriously and developed and printed the roll, all full of admiration for the beautiful photos and didn't keep a single one. Jerry then yielded the tasteful prints to his customer.


They were of a gorgeous young woman totally in the buff, posed 16 different ways. For many years, when seeing the handsome man on billboards touting his business, I would get a secret tickle. He married the girl and they raised a large Catholic family.


The 4x5 I am pulling out of the fixer in the photo above showing a gal in her black bra, was Rose Bottegal, the wife of Jerry's Army buddy Aldo. He and Rose visited us in 1949, and while on the water in a rowboat on a steaming day, Rose shed her blouse. Wearing just her bra, she said "Just make believe this is a swimming suit top."


  • Joey Harrison PRO 9y

    Steven: I used those same trays (and many of my mom's other darkroom things) during the years I did darkroom work. If I hadn't switched to digital, I'd still be using them.

    Janaina: Thanks for stopping by. You're Mary Alice's niece?

    Iwo: Thanks for the heads-up.
  • Vickie Perkins 8y

    I'd buy the book of Chalet's life AND see the movie too.
  • Susan Harrison 8y

    Book, movie....? I'll be busy until 100 writing stories for Flicker! Thanks Vickie.
  • carson.a 8y

    Fabulous story
    I love it
  • Mora Lasnier 8y

    just beautiful...
    i love it!
  • Martin Cawston 7y

    I swear I can hear a voice..
  • timfrommillstreet 7y

    Superb, Superb
  • Judi Stevenson 7y

    Priceless photo.. i love it!
  • hilarymf2008 7y

    Thank you for this, very entertaining
  • ~ Liberty Images PRO 6y

    Love it, the picture, the story, all of it!
  • thebeautyseeker 6y

    your mother is amazing, gives me chills and tears in my eyes! thank you so much for sharing.
  • imagemkr1 -catching up!- 6y

  • nancy PRO 6y

    Love this so much...I want to hug this entire set of photos. Wonderful story, and lovely followup comments (especially from the daughter of Rose!). I feel like I'm growing nostalgic for people I don't know! I'm finally going to be getting back in the darkroom this week and have already asked my mom to look for old negatives (but I am not expecting much luck). The part of your mom's write up about the terrible photos she was forced to develop--priceless.

    I love that metaphoto!
  • rossmacc2003 4y

    I saw a uniform once that was similar to this, but it was buttoned down the back. Anyone like to share pics like this, please?
  • Mary Alice Wise 4y

    Joey, I was wondering if you found any pics of my mom and dad together when they were in Michigan visiting...My mom passed away at Christmas and my daughter loves the photos that were taken that day. Please let me know if you find any. Thanks, Mary Alice
  • Joey Harrison PRO 4y

    Mary Alice, I just found your comment, two months after you wrote it. I'll ask my mom if she has any more photos of your folks. I'll be in touch ...
  • Darkroom Daze PRO 1y

    Great stories. especially about the guys taking 'risque' pics of their womenfolk and friends. Just goes to show what a universal tendency that is (for guys at least), however much they think it's a secret - who hasn't, I wonder?
  • Joey Harrison PRO 1y

    Don't know if you found those photos in my flickr stream. If not, here's a link to the first one. The others are in sequence from there.
  • Darkroom Daze PRO 1y

    Joey Harrison Thanks for the link. Have checked them out. Great - and very amusing. Also evocative period style to everything from the clothes to the notices and labels.
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Taken on October 9, 2005
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