Developing photos in the Old West....Recently I saw some spectacular 1880s photos of the Old West.
Dramatic shots of cowboys and of Indians and mesas and buttes and canyons.
Man, I envisioned the hardships the cameraman had to endure to snap those.
Then I thought about the entire photo process in those bygone days.
You didn't just drop film off at Walgreen's and gallop back a month later to pick up the pictures. A field darkroom wagon is shown here, drawn by four sturdy mules.
I did something like that in the 1950s as a Marine photographer in the wilds of Vieques Island.
Just off the east coast of Puerto Rico, today Vieques is a vacation resort with deluxe condos but 52 years ago it was owned by the US Navy and Marines trained amphibious landings there all year long.
Oh sure, I had a Speed Graphic camera that used holders of 4x5 Kodak film.
I didn't have to coat glass plates with collodium and silver nitrate and shoot before they dried as it was done in the Civil War, but there was no corner drug store either.
The Marine Corps had done this before. We brought along a field darkroom and set it up in, well, the field.
The Lab was covered by a large tent to keep it shaded and was divided into a light side for storage and a dark side where I processed film and made small contact prints.
In the middle was a cooling fan where I kept bottles of Coke and my supply of Bacardi Rum.
I was stationed there for 4 months of winter, assigned to cover a tank battalion . Brr. Tropics.
On weekends, instead of having to clean a tank, I'd either go to San Juan or to Roosevelt Roads, the Naval base, to make large black and white prints for the Battalion Colonel.
He liked my work. I liked my tan.
It was unfortunate I later had to hitch hike back to Camp Lejeune, N.C. and spend a night at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But, that's another story.
(The photos will not enlarge very much.)
The originals were quite small and produced under primitive field conditions. It was rough, I tell yah.
Would you like a Rum & Coke?