When Pope John Paul II made his visit across the United States in 1987 digital photography was still in the prototype stage with Kodak not yet ready to release the 1.3 megapixel DCS 100, the first professional digital single-lens reflex camera.
It wasn’t until 1988 that Nikon and Fuji began selling digital cameras.
In 1992 the first wire service photo from a digital camera made the AP wire. It was shot by AP photographer Ron Edmonds using the DCS 100 tethered to an Apple Macintosh desktop computer operated by Jim Gerberich under the photographer’s platform at the Democratic National Convention.
That meant that wire service and newspaper photographers covering the Pope’s trip in 1987 shot film. Lots of film. All of it color. Someone had to process the film, make prints, and transmit the photos back to the newspapers or to AP photo editors in New York and Washington.
Darkroom duties fell to several groups of AP staffers and stringers who leapfrogged across the country arriving in each city ahead of the Pope and carrying enough darkroom equipment and photo transmitters to quickly process as many as 50 rolls of film at a time and transmit color photos to multiple newspapers at once. The crew I was with traveled from New Orleans to LA then to Detroit for the Pope’s final stop. By then the number of traveling newspaper photographers whose film, prints, and transmitting we handled were much fewer.
The photo with this post shows our crew as we arrived in Los Angeles carrying 27 cases, crates, and containers with film processing equipment, enlargers, and photo transmitters. Almost everything was secured with duct tape.
From left is Steve Pyle from the Milwaukee bureau, David Longstreath of Oklahoma City, Gary Gardiner, Mark Humprey of Nashville, and Tracie, a photo stringer from Texas. At right, making the selfie and group photo is toothpick-chewing Dave Martin of Montgomery.
Among the containers are several heavy-duty cardboard boxes, Halliburton cases, custom-designed and manufactured in Columbus Cabbage Cases, and our suitcases.
Not included in the travel kit were darkroom chemicals, printing papers, and the items required to turn a hotel meeting room into a darkroom without damaging it.
But that’s another story.