My main duties at Van Hallan were to print up the photographs for our clients. At that time Bill had a professional Durst enlarger, which we used for everyday use in our darkroom. Whilst I knew quite a lot about photography before I joined Van Hallan, I carried on learning from Bill and he taught me more and more as time went by. However as I had been helping out for many years now, I knew what was wanted and soon had a good handle on most things that were required of me on a day to day basis.
I then progressed to developing rolls of films on my own which was quite a feat as Bill closely guarded these. I remember going on every single shoot with Bill and no matter how many times he had done this previously in his career, he was always nervous and on edge. The reason was you could not go back and do the shoot again. If your film was a personal family thing and your pictures did not turn out it was a loss but not the end of the world, but as a professional, you had to deliver on every job especially if it was the Queen, other Royalty, a Charity Ball or perhaps a wedding. People were relying on you so you had to perform, as you cannot recreate these one off events so you must prepare yourself well in advance and get in right first time.
Today people use digital cameras so there is hardly anything to go wrong plus you can also pull off good quality still shots from video, so it is less important. In Bill’s and latterly my early days, digital photography did not exist and everything was processed using limited celluloid film, processed hours later using chemical processes. Whilst these were not complex, one had to get it right first time, otherwise your negatives could be destroyed and then you were left with nothing. So processing the negative film was the second most important job to that of shooting it and gaining Bill’s confidence to process these on my own was a major step. Once you had a good set of negatives, you could print and reprint forever.
Our printing was all done by hand, that is setting up the enlarger to frame each photograph, adjusting the sharpness and timing the exposure on the bromide paper. Bill also taught me to use my moving hands to dodge areas to increase or decrease exposure on certain areas of the print.