Photographer Jack Turkel was born at around the same time as NASA, and grew up with a fantasies of space exploration as the modern space age was swinging into high gear.
When he began his photography career in the mid 1970s, Turkel decided to combine his two loves by creating a unique, space-themed darkroom.
Turkel tells us that he created the workspace in the basement of his parents’ first house. His family had limited means, so Turkel had to work within the constrains of a tight budget.
Drawing from ideas and designs seen in TV shows at the time, Turkel — who was just 16 at the time — began visiting plexiglass stores and wood shops in order to pick up scraps of materials for different pieces of the darkroom.
It took him a year to locate things such as keyboard keys, switches, Christmas lights, and themed clocks. Many of the design components were actually functional: one switch would life a door on the side of the room, and a sensor-equipped cassette player would play electronic “bridge sounds” as you entered the room.
Press a small button under the sink, and a second cassette player would play engine noises through a speaker.
“Windows” in the room were actually glass panels that simulated stars using a light bulb and a surface poked full of tiny holes.
All in all, Turkel estimates that he spent under $500 (in 1975 dollars) building his dream space-themed studio back in 1975. “I was always very good at making something look expensive with using very little,” he says.
Turkel made use of his little spaceship for photos he shot during high school, processing both black and white and color (Cibachrome) photos.
The space was also popular among people around him. He tells us,
Friends and family enjoyed it and often invited others get the whole experience for themselves. After the chemicals were put away and all was cleaned up, I would many times end up in that special room again, sometimes to do my homework, turn off the main lights, let the sound effects play and disappear into my off-world fantasy starship.
In time, Turkel’s family moved out of that house. 5 years ago, he revisited the house and asked the new owners whether his darkroom was still intact. The woman told him that they wouldn’t bring themselves to dismantle it, but used the room for storage instead. Aside from damage caused by water, bumps, and time, the darkroom is still relatively intact.
Turkel currently runs a photo and design studio in the New York/Tri-state area called JACKJAYdigital. He still loves space.