I have already written about my days as an 8x10 b&w studio product photographer. I told you we (staff photographers) each tray developed our own film as we shot it, but we didnít make all those Azo contact prints. We had Aggie to do that.
Aggie had, in her youth, chased Generals all over Europe with an OD Speed Graphic during WWII. After the war, she returned to Springfield and worked for years, making drugstore deckle-edged b&w prints by hand, by the thousands. Aggie was the best commercial printer I ever met. She taught me everything I know about working efficiently in the darkroom.
One of her best tricks was shuffle-developing a dozen or more 8x10 prints in a deep tank of Dektol. Batch after batch after batch. Hour after hour without a break. The tricky part was handling the dry paper with a dry hand while agitating the wet prints with a wet hand. (You could probably do this with 8x10 sheet film as well.)
Aggieís method was to always buy lined rubber gloves at least two sizes too big. She could then slip her hand into a wet glove draped over the lab sink front rail without having to use her other dry hand to pull it on. Gravity did the job. In a like manner, she could shake the glove off when it was time to go back to the printer and expose more paper with two dry hands.
Another trick was to keep a genuine Kodak 2-quart glass darkroom beaker full of fresh water in the corner of the sink. Aggie would dip her gloved hand into the water to rinse off the fixer before returning to handle prints in the developer. Same technique as having two print tongs.
Just like any other business, that studio had occasional slow days with no work for the troops. The owner used to go crazy when he saw us hanging around, idle. Aggie, an Army veteran, of course had a solution for that problem as well. She used to save all of her test prints in a large box on a shelf in a dark corner of her lab. When things were slow, she would get them all out and run them through the massive stainless print washer and then feed them through the big Pako gas-fired drum dryer. Some of those prints had been washed and dried several times. But the owner never seemed to catch on.
Getting to the subject of this post, Aggie always wore a 14-ounce denim apron. Years of experience had taught her that rubber aprons were hot, stiff and heavy. Good quality denim did a perfectly adequate job of catching small chemical spills.
I have looked for years to find an apron just like the one she wore back then. And Iíve finally found it. The maker is The Morgan Company, 2057 Smith Flat Cemetery Road, Placerville, CA. The owner is Vince Munoz-Plaza.
Several models are made, in white, green or blue heavy fabric. Piped all around the edge. Two pocket configurations. Real sturdy, and a nice job of stitching (I know from experience: my wife sews). Same apron as the one Shopsmith sells.
I got two, in the Shopmaster Denim style. One for the lab and another for shooting. Vince made them extra big (at no extra charge) to accommodate my portly girth. Pockets are just right for 4x5 holders, meters, magnifiers, etc. You even get hammer loops to deal with more serious problems. ;0)
The web address is: