In 1994, the biggest print I had ever made was 16” x 20” … black and white. To make a print that size in my darkroom, I needed 3 chemical trays that size for Developer, Stop Bath, and Fixer and a larger tray for rinse. For those trays I needed a sink with running water. The sink had to be 2-1/2 ft. by 6 ft. I built it from plywood coated with epoxy resin. I had to work in the amber glow of safelights. In that glow, I would insert a black & white negative into the carrier, carefully blow the dust off and insert the carrier into an enlarger, then crank the enlarger head way up to project a negative image onto a very large easel that would hold the photographic paper flat while I exposed it to the light of the enlarger. The aperture of the enlarger lens and the length of the exposure, typically 10 to 20 seconds, would have to be just right to get a good result. A timer controlled the enlarger light. To get the perfect exposure, I would start with an educated guess and expose a test strip, then pass the test strip through the trays filled with chemicals, developer, stop bath, and fixer, then rinse. Then turn the overhead light on to check the result. Then make another test strip and another until I knew I had the exposure just right. I could adjust the result by using a contrast filter under the lens and a thin wire with a piece of black paper to hold the the light back over certain parts of the print. That was called “dodging.” I could take a piece of black cardboard with a hole in it and hold it over certain parts of the paper while I turned the enlarger light back on to add a little more exposure in certain areas. That is called “burning.” I had a number of home made dodging and burning tools with differently shaped pieces of paper and and holes. Sometimes I would make a full-size print 3 or 4 times before I was satisfied with it. The time I spent in the darkroom could not be measured in hours. It was years. Actually, it was decades.
And I always thought it was unfair that when photography was displayed as art, it was usually no bigger than 11 x 14 in. … often smaller in a frame, almost never larger. Artists who worked with paint, on the other hand, could create a canvas 6 ft. wide or any size, could paint a wall.
As a commercial photographer I also worked with color of course, but never in the darkroom. Everything had to be done in preparation for the shot. When the camera button was pushed, my work was done. Then the transparency film went to the lab. There was no manipulation of the image after the picture was taken. All color, lighting, and special effects happened in front of the camera lens.
Can you imagine my excitement when I read about inkjet printers that could make a color print 3 ft. by 8 ft or any length from a roll of paper and could do that without chemical trays and with the room lights on? Wall sized murals could be made with multiple panels. And computer programs could make all the adjustments visible on a monitor before making the print. That is why in 1995 I went into about $90,000 debt to set up a system that could make huge color prints. I didn’t know who my customers would be or why they would pay the high prices I had to charge. It took me a couple of years to really figure that out.
I needed to rent big commercial space because it wasn’t just making the prints; they had to be laminated and mounted. I needed a $16,000 laminating machine, a 5 ft. by 8 ft. cutting table, and a lot of space for storing and working with 4 ft x 8 ft. foam core, gator board, pvc board, and masonite.
I needed space for building and setting up large displays. I had to learn a lot of new techniques for mounting, laminating, and precision cutting. In addition to the cutting table, I needed a special bench with a 9 ft. cutting tool on a track to cut perfect abutting seams for multiple panel murals. I learned how to manipulate images in photoshop.
And in time, the business became very successful providing companies and organizations with displays, mostly for trade shows and conventions.