was written in 1979 and refers to g. Paul Bishop in the 1979's
g. Paul Bishop, a
master portrait photographer who has lived and worked at the
same location in Berkeley, California, photographing hundreds of
famous and not-so-famous people for over 30 years. He is also a
lecturer in visual design at the University of California;
sometimes with his classes taking place at his home in his
kitchen which converts into a darkroom . . . or is it a darkroom
that converts into a kitchen?
your darkroom/kitchen arrangement is so unusual, especially for
a pro of long standing like yourself, let's start there. Will
you describe it?
(laughing) I think the best way is to say it's a system. We live
here and work here and have raised three children in the studio.
Diapers --- in those days, they didn't have Pampers --- the
wash-type diapers were hung on my film drying rack. I still use
the rack . . . but for film drying, not for diapers. Our system
begins in the morning. My wife and I have breakfast, then the
dishes are washed and put away, and out come the chemicals. I
try to do my sittings mostly in the afternoon and my "darkrooming"
in the morning. At lunchtime, my supplies are put out of the way
and we have a simple lunch. The sink area is always kept clear.
If I'm going to "darkroom" in the afternoon, the trays come back
In the early
days, I used to get so angry with my wife. She loved fresh
diapers. She would snap them and all the fine lint would land
all over everything. Then it was hours worth of spotting. Now,
my wife does all of the spotting, although we do have pretty
clean prints these days.
though our kitchen is still interesting, even tax-wise. It is
over 50 percent darkroom so we treat it for tax purposes as a
darkroom. We just do out cooking in the darkroom instead of
doing our darkrooming in the kitchen.
about grease? Isn't that a problem?
gPB: No, I
keep my equipment well covered though we do have a little
grease. My old friend Sam Erlich would always say, "It's that
grease that makes your prints so fine."
did you learn about darkroom work? Did you teach yourself, read
books. or ask people?
idol was Edward Weston. I spent as much time with him as I
possibly could. I'd go charging down to Carmel and just get in
his way, hanging around. I'm sure Weston found me very pesty.
just went down there? Were you introduced to him first?
people did just appear uninvited. I happen to have a mutual
acquaintance whom I went with for the first time. I was so taken
with Edward and his photography that I learned more than I ever
expected. If you look back through my prints, you'll find that
no matter what format I used, if they were 8X10, they were 8X10
full frame; if they were 35mm, they were in the proportion of
one to one-and-a-half.
cropping of the negatives . . . ?
Correct. I think just now I'm beginning, after all these years,
to find the freedom to stray from this rule.
say, well, I really would like it better cropped this way?
gather you learned printing by picking up Edward Weston's
My darkroom is very complicated now compared to his. He had a
pull chain with a light bulb up over the table. That was how he
exposed his prints, by pulling the chain. Pretty soon, if he
felt the paper was exposed enough, he's pull the chain and turn
off the light. Actually, Edward apologized to me once
because there was an enlarger over in the corner which belonged
to his son, Brett. Edward would have nothing to do with it.
Newcomers to the darkroom were always carefully told that that
was Brett's enlarger. Maybe Edward's darkroom forced me to
realize that his work had to come out of him, not out of
anything else. Pulling a chain on a light bulb was enough.
kind of enlarger do you use?
on my second Durst enlarger. The M601. When I retire darkroom
equipment, I move it up to our home in the mountains. My old
Durst is up there. Both enlargers are 2¼-inch format. Here I use
a color head because it's a little more diffuse for printing
black-and-white. I print most of my photographs on a grade #3
enlarger lenses do you prefer?
gPB: I use
Nikkors---they're sharp. My usual lens for 2¼-square film is a
105mm. Most photographers use an 80mm lens with that format. I
have to use the 50mm lens to make a bigger enlargement than I
can with my 80mm.
you any darkroom methods that you think are different than the
contact sheet and preliminary prints --- I do them rapidly on
Polycontrast paper. My finished prints are on Ilford graded
paper, almost always #3. I use Dektol and run the finished
prints through selenium toner.
you used any of the resin coated paper?
gPB: I use
RC paper for glossies all of the time. It's so quick.
heard you have a personal film developer formula. How about
passing it on?
I start out with 28 ounces of water at 68°F. Add one ounce of
acetone at room temperature. It raises the water temperature to
70°F. Do not use paint thinner; it must be a fine-grade acetone.
I use U.S.P. (Pharmaceutical grade), but it doesn't have to be
that good. Then I add sodium sulfite --- you have to be careful,
that's F-I-T-E --- there's a sulfate and a sulfide. I use 30
grains of sodium sulfite. For those who don't want to bother
with scales, that's a good rounded quarter-teaspoon --- I still
weigh mine out. Add 20 grains of Elon or Metol --- they are both
the same thing. I stir well and that's all. The important thing
here to remember is agitation. During the first 30 seconds,
agitation is continuous. Not a rapid shaking, but about two
inversions every 5 seconds. Then it becomes critical to leave
the tank alone, let it sit for 1 minute. Then give it 5 more
seconds --- about two or three inversions --- each minute
thereafter. I haven't put any alkali in this developer, so you
don't need an acid shortstop. I use a plain water shortstop at
70°F. Then fix.
about development time?
time is different for each type of film, and depends on how much
contrast you want. For Panatomic-X, it's 12 to 13 minutes at
70°F, depending on contrast. Plus-X is 13 to 14, Tri-X is 15 to
16 minutes. The more development, the more contrast.
DP: Do you
process all you film at 70°F?
I think 70°F is easier to maintain the 68. And 70°F works fine.
My developer doesn't soften the film. If anything, it has a
little tanning action, so you don't really have soft film at
70°F. I wash Panatomic-X for 6 minutes, Plus-X a little longer,
and Tri-X for at least 15 minutes.
about a washing aid? Do you use hypo-clearing agent?
gPB: I do
not. I was complaining about scratches on the film, and a friend
of mine said, "Oh, you're using hypo eliminator, aren't you?" He
was right. It softens the film just enough so that you get
scratches. It isn't necessary, because thin-emulsion films will
wash very rapidly. I do use Kodak's Photo-Flo, then I hang the
film up to dry. There's the diaper rack right there. If I'm in a
hurry for the film, I turn on a couple of burners on the stove.
It isn't directly under the film [and far enough away from the
acetone], but it's close enough so that it helps. I was in the
Navy, and when you're a sailor you learn to make maximum use of
talk about your printing. You make the contact sheets and
make proof prints, all burned and dodged.
developer do you use for printing?
Dektol for everything, diluted 1:2, with an acetic stop bath.
just bought some new stuff --- Lauder Paper Fix. You dilute it
1:7 and fix for 4 to 8 minutes. I usually use Kodak fixer, but
this came at a little better price. The only thing I vary from
the book is that I always use fresh hypo and I don't use two
baths, just one and [then dispose of it through a silver
recovery process before it is exhausted]. I use Permawash, and
then I wash. I have the simplest washer in the world --- see!
DP: A tray
with holes in it! After you wash it, then what do you do ---
Right, but first I use a little solution of regular baking soda,
about a teaspoon in a quart of water, just in case there's a bit
of acid left in the print. If there's any acid left, you'll get
yellow stains all over. I forgot to mention one thing with
Ilfobrom, I don't use fixer with an acid hardener added. The
difference is --- if you take Ilfobrom processed in a hardener
fixer out in sunlight you'll see a definite purple glow, but if
you don't put hardener in, you just get beautiful black.
DP: How do
you dry your prints?
this (he pulls out aluminum-framed screens, stretched with
cheesecloth). Air dry on muslin or cheesecloth. Then I put them
in the mounting press for a few seconds and they are ready to
Earlier you mentioned that you were in the Navy. Were you in a
war? Did anything exciting happen to you?
yes. Before WWII started, I had switched from dental school into
photography, and after first going bankrupt, I had succeeded in
establishing a going portrait business. So I applied to be a
photographic officer in the Navy, and was sent to Naval
Photography School. It was the only school I ever went to.
Mostly I did aerial photography: damage assessment and
photographing beaches before invasion. But because I was once
dumb enough to keep going when I should have turned back, I
received a Presidential Citation, and as a result I was sent to
work with Edward Steichen. Alas, I was only in Edward's group
about a month before the Navy stopped his operations.
did you do while you worked with Steichen?
were sent on special trips to make pictorial types of publicity
pictures, instead of doing reconnaissance. Edward later made a
book out of the pictures called The Fighting Lady.
the war ended, did you go back to what you had been doing
didn't have a real purpose before the war. I wanted to be a
photographer, to take pictures, but I didn't have a hard-core
reason. I knew I wanted to work with people, and the war was a
catalyst for me. I saw people killed all around me, but I gained
insight into human beings' courage and basic goodness. Some
other people were completely devastated by the war; they saw
only the negative side. I made up my mind that human beings are
the greatest things in the world. Photography became a tool for
me to gain understanding and show appreciation. That's all my
work is about, an affirmation that "people are wonderful."
Carol. "Fine Portraits From the Kitchen." Darkroom
- excerpts. 1, No. 1 (March-April 1979). pp. 54-58.