Shedding some light on photo paper

This is just a quick note for the unaware about photo paper and photo paper. Yes, there are two kinds, some from the same brand, and they are distinctly different from another.

I have this local thrift store that provides me with an occasional amazing vintage photo treasure. Not long ago, I sauntered over to the particular gondola where the electronic gadgets and old cameras are to be found.

I could tell, even from a great distance, that there was a 100-sheet box of Kodak Polycontrast Rapid-RC photo paper up for sale. That shade of yellow on the box is burned into my head.

Before I reached it, a young man picked up and examined the box; he noted the label on top and then pop-opened the box to view the paper. He took out a white stack and fanned it, looking at the condition of the glossy surfaces as they flitted by.

I stopped and actually gasped. He turned and looked at me quizzically.

"That's photo paper!" I blurted out. A blank stare was returned. "No, REAL photo paper, the kind that was used in darkrooms back in the day," I tried to explain. The stare became a decidedly confused one, the once crisp white paper, still partially removed from the box, was now gently graying as we looked at each other.

The young man turned his head, read the box top again and looked back to reply, "Yes, says here photo paper."

"No, not the computer photo paper you use with an inkjet printer on your desk, the kind of photo paper that's extremely light-sensitive and only to be used in an old photographic darkroom - a DARK ROOM," I offered as I pointed to the forest of fluorescent lights overhead. He quickly realized what he had done and closed the box with a start.

"Too, late, the paper has been ruined," I signed. "All of it."

We chatted for a few moments. Good kid. He didn't know if he should apologize for his unknowing mistake or tell the management of the store. I told him to forget about it, what he did was an honest, innocent mistake. Besides, anyone who knew anything about this sort of paper would never buy an opened box. Too chancy.

I told him what I was concerned about that there is so little photographic darkroom paper left since Kodak's exit from the market that hobbyists would have clamored for some fresh sheets of darkroom paper. And, with a little research, the thrift store could have made much more cash than the paltry $2 they marked on the box.

Anyway, not a big deal but it's helpful for me to remember how quickly the knowledge of chemical photography, of darkrooms and film and print-making, has faded from the collective memory.

So, young folks and others, know that there are two kinds of photo paper; the current type used for printing digital photos in bright light, the other older type - outdated and becoming quite scarce - is photo paper that was/can be used under the red lights of a chemical darkroom.


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