Sunday, June 3, 2012

did it beep?

The most popular phrase in our color class: "Did it beep?" Followed by: "Did anybody hear it beep? Who was in there last?" and "Will I hear it beep?"

Oh, yes. You will hear it beep.

Because color prints have to be made in complete darkness, there is no communal darkroom. There are seven tiny ones, each with an enlarger. You go into your room, turn the lights off, fumble your paper out and onto the easel, make your exposure, and fumble your paper into a paper safe so that you can turn on the light.

At that point, you emerge from your tiny room back into the cross-traffic and noise of fifteen other people trying to get some work done and the roar of the Hope machine. You squeeze past the light table where at least three people are looking at their negatives in despair, past the daylight board, where five more are asking each other questions like: "Does that look too magenta to you?" (Yes.) You go around the Hope machine and, if the tiny room behind it is free, you ask the nearest person the eternal question: "Did it beep?"

If it beeped, you can go in, shut off the lights, and feed your paper into its maw (emulsion side down please, and lengthwise so it (hopefully) won't jam). If it hasn't beeped, it's still sucking in the previous person's photo, and you linger outside the doorway, not in the room, because if you are in the room when it beeps, you'll wish you hadn't been. Everything about the Hope machine is loud, but its beep is particularly shrill and piercing.

Once you've fed it your precious photo, you go round the other side of it and wait. And wait. And wait. It's only four and a half minutes, but the very real chance of your photo getting stuck, never to be seen again, makes it seem much longer.

Eventually, if you're lucky, it slides out, warm and dry, and drops into your hands. You look at it hopefully...and realize that not only does it need at least five more seconds of exposure and you'll have do it over...but it's also probably too magenta.

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