Photographer’s Assistants – Real Life Stories, Part 1

Photographers’ Assistants: Real Life Stories. For now, until I get permission to name them, these photographer’s assistants will remain unnamed or given pseudonyms.

During the first few months of Adphoto, John was doing all the production work. He would shoot during the day, and at night, would process his films and print contact prints, as well as do the final prints that clients were ordering – which simply meant that he did not get much sleep. He was happy working that way, almost 24/7, but a wise photographer-friend reminded John that he was primarily a photographer, and that if he wanted to be a good photographer, he would need to learn to delegate the more minor work to an assistant.

We went looking for darkroom technician, but could not find anyone who had already been trained as one. The only way that we could have a good darkroom man – was to train one from scratch.

Our very first photographer’s assistant was a former air conditioning repairman, to whom John taught lessons in processing black&white films and printing black&white pictures. He did only black&white work, as our Ektachrome color slides were then sent for processing to a local color lab (Photogenic, owned by Mrs. Eduviges Huang of today’s Federation of Pilipino Photographers’ Foundation), while our Kodachrome slides were sent to Australia through the local Kodak office. Color prints, on the other hand, were done by a big color lab called Photomasters.

He learned quickly, and served us well for almost ten years. By then, he had become the best black&white printer in Metro Manila, and left us to set up his own photographic printing shop. He was the favorite printer of members of Metro Manila’s famed camera clubs. Practically all entries in camera club monthly competitions then that were submitted by different photographers were printed by one man, John’s former assistant. We were very proud that he came from Adphoto.

From what I remember, he is older than we are, and as to be expected, he and his business are retired now, forced to close by his age, and today’s better-equipped printing labs using inkjet and laser printers. When he visited recently, we reminisced about the old days, and almost simultaneously, we laughed as we exclaimed in Tagalog, “Don’t you just miss the smell of fixers?” – and we didn’t mean those “rats” at government offices, but the chemicals, Kodak Dektol and D-76, used for developing films and papers.