All images by Jack Turkel. Used with permission
Jack Turkel’s darkroom from 1975 was well worth being on MTV’s Cribs show many years ago–but even today his darkroom is turning heads and getting photographers excited; or at least photos of it are. Jack, being the creative that he is, decided to give his dark room a special touch and due to his fascination with NASA and other space age technology, he modelled it very much after that. He built it in his parents’ basement when his photo career was just starting to take off.
Today it is still around, but nowhere in the shining glory that it was years ago. We talked to Jack about the darkroom, the inspiration for it, and the type of work that he did down there in the 1975 darkroom.
Phoblographer: What inspired you to build you darkroom into something that looks like it’s out of Star Trek?
Jack: I was born at the beginning of NASA and the modern space age and was always fascinated about the possibilities of the future. Growing up in difficult financial conditions, I dreamed of being in futuristic places that gave me hope for how things would someday be. When my parents bought there first home back in the mid seventies, I had a basement that was finally something that I could work with (with my parents permission of course) I was just starting my photo career and education and now had the chance to combined 2 dreams. Make a working darkroom but created it into a space fantasy.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you designed it and got all the right pieces for it.
Jack: I got ideas from some TV shows and just the creative ideas in my own head. I saw what I had to work with which was simply a corner of a basement and began drawing out what I was capable of making myself with my small budget. I had a plexiglass shop nearby and was always going there now that I has a drivers license at 16. I would pick through the scrap area for things I could buy and use. I also had wood-shop in high school to secretly create the various shapes of wood that I knew I needed to fabricate the vision. After digging up anything I could find to detail the walls with, like keyboard keys. switches,, Christmas lights, clocks, etc, I made its all come together within a year. FYI, many of those switches worked and controlled things like the door that would slide up over the area above the table on the right. I even had a sensor from radio shack that would start a cassette player when you walked in with electronic “Bridge” sounds. (I still have that tape somewhere!) Also, there is a small button under the sink that controlled a subwoofer that I bought in a flea market that was connected to another cassette player with engine noises. The most reaction I got was when the lights were out. The “window” over the sink was an actual glass window that looked into a large boxed out area behind it. This area was light tight bout had many tiny holes in it with a light behind it, so when you looked into that window, you would see stars.
Wow. all these memories I am writing now really make me miss it.
Phoblographer: Is it still around? Did you keep anything from it at all?
Jack: I went back about 5 years ago and asked the new owners of the house if it was still there. The women was very nice. After explaining that I was the person that made “That weird room in the basement” she let me and my sister who was visiting at the time go down and look. The new owners could not bring themselves to dismantle it. They did however use it for storage. It was all pretty much still there but in very bad shape from years of basement water damage and stuff being mover around over 40 years. I pulled a few little things off the wall for sentimental reasons and have them on my desk as I type this.
Back when I was living there, I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle it when my folks sold the house so it pretty much was left for the enjoyment of the new owners. Unfortunately the new owners had no interest in a darkroom but did leave it intact.
I plan on going back next year to see whats left of my personal little starship!
Phoblographer: Tell us about you as a photographer. What type of work do you do and about the work you did in that dark room.
Jack: Shortly before I moved from that house, I got a job as a photo lab tech and then moved up to become the studio manager. After 15 years, I moved on to work at a post production studio that did computer graphics. This was when physical slides would be creating from computer output. After some time in that field I landed a job as graphics designer/photographer at a large pharmaceutical company and managed its photo studio for over ten years. Then came the massive lay-offs about 7 years ago. I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world so I decided to go at it myself and open my own studio. This is where things are now. Its called JACKJAYdigital. I specialize in food, portraits, and commercial photography, (as well as my own fine art photos and passion for getting into interesting and hard to get places to photograph.)
My love of science and the future continues to direct my efforts into the work and projects I try to get. Culminating in the opportunity of photographing many space shuttle launches, including the first and and the last launch. With some of these photo opps allowing me right on the launch pad.
The work I did in that old darkroom, (Yes it was a working darkroom) was mostly for my own photos that I shot at the time. High school projects and stuff. Mostly B&W and also experimenting with color. Cibachrome it was called. But many times i would go down there, turn off the main lights, lets the sound effects play and disappear into my off-world fantasy ship.