Forumsee logo
Forumsee » Photography » Cameras and Equipment » Read message
RSS: Subscribe to RSS

1940's WWII Navy Darkroom Restoration

Darkroom: Equipment -
Two Summers ago I toured the WWII battleship USS Alabama at Mobile, Alabama.

One stop on the tour sheet said "darkroom". I looked into the compartment and thought, "Where's the stuff?!"

A volunteer put me in touch with the curator about taking pictures. The curator told me they were looking for someone to help them set up the darkroom.

They wanted to actually USE it again to process film and print pictures. The original equipment had been removed when the ship was taken out of service in 1947. The sink, counter and storage unit were still there.

That meeting with the curator was nearly two years ago. The room is now close to being ready to use. The original door to the darkroom was discovered several months ago, stashed somewhere on the on one side... and put back in place. It now has a red plexiglas window so the people on tour can watch someone printing.

During the war, the room was used for the following:

Recon Photos: The Photographer's Mate had to document the action during the war, including aerial photos of the combat area.

Some of the equipment of the time was as follows:

The K-20 aerial camera was used for reconnaissance.

A large, fixed focal length lens camera which took a long roll of "Kodak Aviator's Film". There was, I believe, a vacuum back to keep the film...a 4x5 frame...tight against the film plane. The photographer hand-held this large camera in use. A metal "can" was used in place of a bellows...which would have collapsed when held out in the slip stream in a moving aircraft!

A Fairchild-Smith long-roll film tank with a crank on top to transport the film was used for processing.

A Smith long-roll film dryer is a Ferris wheel looking can dryer.

Once dry the film was printed on:

A Fairchild contact printer. The printer had five rows of five argon-gas bulbs (25 total). Areas of the negative which were too bright (clear) could be "dodged" by selectively turning off individual bulbs.

Kodak also had a contact printer that was a diffusion type. Strips of tissue paper could be placed on a ground glass panel above the bulbs to "dodge" the bright spots. Clever!

Kodak AZO paper was used for contact prints. A dedicated contact printing paper.

Press / Combat / Crew Events: A Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 press camera was used by a Photographer's Mate.

Smaller ships with no Photographer's Mate were issued a Kodak Medalist rangefinder camera (620 roll film).

I was surprised to learn that an 8x10 view camera was used on shipbord due to its size and the bellows shaking in the wind, however...

I ordered a Navy 8x10 negative sleeve from an auction site and inside was an aircraft crash report from an aircraft carrier.

A plane had been damaged on landing and the Photographer's Mate used an 8x10 camera to document the wrecked aircraft.

He even shot down into the cockpit...I suppose hand-held with the 8x10 camera.

The 8x10 negatives and prints were in the sleeve with the report!

To process sheet film, the wooden Graflex cut film holders were emptied and the film put into Kodak 4x5 stainless film hangers.

The hangers, as a group were assembled on a small wooden rack.

The group of hangers was then picked up and dipped into Kodak 4x5 hard rubber tanks...a water bath being used in lieu of "short stop"...for film. A period Navy film shows...and we now have...a General Electric wind-up X-ray timer. Pre-set the time in minutes, and in the dark reach over and crank down an arm that starts the timer. It is perfect for processing!

The tanks have floating hard rubber lids to minimize evaporation. "Replenisher" is added to top off the developer if evaporation has occurred.

In the Alabama's darkroom we put back an Omega DII 4x5 enlarger...the 1941 model.

I hope to use Slavich single-weight graded paper to print on. It is new to me, but sounds like a ready replacement for the 1940's paper.

Washing the negatives was done either with a wash tray, a wash tray with a siphon, or if available, a mechanical print washer.

A print dryer could be used, or air drying is an option...

...OR as my uncle used to do, the wet print was slapped face down onto a chrome plated "Ferrotype Plate"...rolled not squeegeed...and left to fall off when dry. This imparted maximum luster to the print, as is demonstrated in the Navy film.

I.D. Cards: I.D. pictures were taken with a Graflex "Photorecord" long roll 35mm I.D. camera.

This was sometimes used with a Graflex Mobile I.D. Unit. After Pearl Harbor, hundreds of thousands of military personnel and plant workers had to be given I.D. cards. This unit helped make that happen.

So the crewman's PICTURE came from the I.D. camera, used full size from the negative.

To make the CARD, one way is to load 4x5 cut film holders with Arista "Ortho-Litho" film (like old Kodalith).

That's a whole story, as the film had no apparent ISO number. After one unsuccessful attempt, a rep from the distributor told me that the ISO number is ".5 to 1"! Can't get much slower than that! I have yet to try it.

The card is composed full-size on the Speed Graphic's ground glass panel.

The Ortho-Litho negative will be black, with clear lines and text (for contact printing).

A window will be cut in this negative and the PICTURE negative from the I. D. camera will be taped to the back, showing through the window.

This will contact print a blank picture I.D. card (Ilford FB Matte) that can be typed-in and signed. This part is still THEORY!

The original height chart for I.D. cards is still on the darkroom wall. The height lines are worn in the middle of the chart from all those heads rubbing on it.

A number stand for the crewman's serial number stands in front of the crewman as the photo is taken...this shows at the bottom of his photo.

The information above was gleaned from several sources...The 1945 Navy Photographer's School Manuals Vol. I and II, two 1948 Navy films on Developing the Negative and Printing the Positive, which can be seen online.

Sadly, I have not found a veteran Navy photographer to talk to. I missed one by 9 months and what a career he had!

If you tour the USS Alabama, stop by and see the darkroom!

If you know where we could find a small Graflex Mobile I.D. Unit or just the camera stand...or just the measurements, I would appreciate the information.



Read responses in


Last videos:

Something for Nikon D3300 users.
Something for Nikon D3300 users.
4K 60P and Slow Motion
4K 60P and Slow Motion
I'm a YouTube Poet
I'm a YouTube Poet
Happy Holidays, from an Airport
Happy Holidays, from an Airport
Printing Tutorials
Printing Tutorials
Sony a7R III
Sony a7R III
HSS and Flash Meters
HSS and Flash Meters
Documentaries on LF photography
Documentaries on LF photography
Cars · 
Mobility · 
Hardware · 
Motorbikes · 
Travel · 
Boating · 
Aviation · 
About Forumsee · Contact · Privacy policy · Request content removal
We use cookies for navigation analysis and personalized advertisement. By using our site, you agree to our use of cookies.
Accept  ·  Learn more