Mom at the enlarger, 1949

[Self-portrait and narrative by my mother.]


I purchased this inexpensive Federal 6.3 diffusion enlarger along with a developing tank, thermometer, contact printer, safelight, timer, easel, basic chemicals, trays, and tongs. From the beginning I was most excited about being able to crop and compose my images with the enlarger. The contact printer gathered dust while I fed roll after roll directly through the Federal, making 4x5 enlargements instead of contact prints.


An eye can detect in the darkroom an out-of-focus photo or a subject who has blinked at the moment of exposure or other fatal flaws that make a negative a candidate for the trash bin before ever being printed, wasting paper, chemicals and time.


I was frugal, and the enlarger enabled me. Thriftiness actually made me a better photographer! Not wanting to waste led to careful composition, focus, and exposure. Actually, I took few photos. A roll of 12 exposures yielded 10 keepers or more. I would go on an entire afternoon shoot with one roll of film.


During my day we were advised to bracket our exposures, taking one additional picture at a slightly larger aperture than the meter indicated, and one at a smaller – probably a wise precaution. The Dutch in me said, Take a careful meter reading, silly, and use the result!


After a few years of darkroom experience I bought a bigger, better condenser enlarger –

an Omega B4 – and disposed of the Federal. Then I missed it greatly and never quite got used to the new one. It was supposed to be an autofocus, but I always found myself sharpening the image, creating images that were startlingly hard and unforgiving. I think the Omega intimidated me. It now sits shrouded in plastic in the basement. I never get a rush of warmth when vacuuming around it, as I do when contemplating this old photo of the dear Federal.


I made an attempt in this photo to create darkroom-like lighting. I used just one 100-watt bare bulb positioned where the safelight normally hung, and of course I placed the camera on a tripod. Remember, we didn't have auto-focus cameras then, so the solution was to place something where the subject was to be in the photo, (here, me!) go to the camera and focus on it, screw the self-timer in, rush back into position, look composed, and wait for the shutter to click. What I did was rest a yardstick on my chair leaning on the enlarger about where my head would be, and focused on it. To look authentic, I should have had a negative image showing in the easel. I thought about it at the time actually. Fussy, fussy!


For some reason I must have reversed this image, because the uniforms I wore at work buttoned on the opposite side. Although the darkroom was at the doctor's office where I worked, I did my darkroom work after office hours. I was his "right arm" and he kept me hopping all day long. But I stayed after work in the evenings or on Saturday afternoons if I wasn't needed on a home call after Saturday morning office hours.


The doctor was an artist himself. He painted fine European-style scenes in oil on an easel in his wife's pleasant sunroom. So he followed the darkroom set-up with interest, commented on my photographs, and in general was really encouraging, in addition to providing an entire room for my use. (Lots of water too!) It didn't hurt that I photographed his children often, took passport photos of him and his wife before they departed on a European vacation, and made a still-life of his favorite comfy shoes tossed next to his well-worn "doctor bag." I mailed an enlargement to him at his kinfolk's address in Amsterdam. The photo was a hit!


  • nancy PRO 6y

    Love this evocative and dreamy. Your mom is absolutely stunning.
  • Kate Kirkwood PRO 6y

    What an inspiring combination of image and story. Darkroom magic.
  • Mike Zeis PRO 6y

    I never would have thought to have my hair done before going into the darkroom. But I am glad that you did.
  • Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley 6y

    How beautiful is this shot? Wow.
  • antiochus66 5y

    sheer cinematic class,seriously lovely image.
    you guys should be working on the tv series madmen...
  • NYCandre PRO 5y

    great series ..
  • Anthony Catalano 5y

    Wonderful series. On Facebook, I pointed the 3,402 members of my "Old Boro Park" (nostalgic) to here. My mom was just like yours with her fascination of photography. She developed film but only made contact prints of her large 620 negatives. She also loved her reel-to-reel Webcor recorder. I in turn, miss my darkroom, although I do still have the equipment, sadly it gathers dust. I vow to use it soon.

    Darkroom 1978 a
  • Susan Harrison 5y

    Anthony, thanks for the mention of Mom's World to your Facebook "Old Boro Park." MANY of them must have taken a look given a big peak of hits! Interesting about your own mom's darkroom work 'way back. Do try to get back to your equipment yourself. It was such joy.
  • Schönheit~ 5y

    Your mom is gorgeous .
  • Susanne on Flickr 5y

    This was your mother wow! Brings back memories for me, my father had a home developing studio, he was a prolific photographer, always using me in his studio and out and about London in the 1950s.
  • Dan Goorevitch 5y

    What a beauty! A lot more like Veronica Lake than Lauren Bacall.
    Wondered about the uniform till I read the story.
  • PeeT NeeT 4y

    Good. ...
  • Anhaid Cardoza 4y

    I thought it was Rita Hayworth
  • Luffup* PRO 4y

    This is beautiful. : )
  • Darkroom Daze PRO 1y

    Great story, great photographer and great model combined. I hope your mother had lots of good photos taken of her too.
  • Joey Harrison PRO 1y

    That's not a model, that's my mom. It's a self-portrait. There are lots more in the Mom's World set.
  • Darkroom Daze PRO 1y

    Joey Harrison Sorry for misunderstanding or any unintended offence caused. I used the word 'model' as shorthand, meaning that your mother was not only a photographer but (as others have noted here too) could have been a model too.
  • Joey Harrison PRO 1y

    No offense caused at all.
  • Silent_Soliloquy 11mo

    Amazing Self port by Your mother..Hollywood mood lighting with a simple bulb and the silhouette that the Federal enlarger created is brilliant, be honest I cant imagine Lauren Bacall ever looked so glamorous next to an enlarger in a darkroom...what a really special moment, artfully described by the woman herself...thank you for sharing the image and the story...
  • Joey Harrison PRO 11mo

    Thanks for the nice comment. My mom would be pleased.
441 faves
Taken sometime in 1949
  • Show EXIF
This photo is in 20 groups
This photo is in 1 album

Additional info

  • Viewing this photo Public
  • Safety level of this photo Safe
  • S Search
    Photo navigation
    < > Thumbnail navigation
    Z Zoom
    B Back to context