It’s perhaps counter intuitive at first, but the darkroom is not a static environment. Darkrooms evolve. Needs change, the film stocks or papers you prefer may change. You may luck upon an upgrade or change locations all together. It’s a workshop of sorts and the darkroom changes over time as the craftsman adapts it to more closely suit his or her processes and ambitions.
I’m mostly self taught in black and white film photography. If you want to go all the way back, I processed and contact printed one roll of the new film Tmax in high school. Then nothing until I decided to try it again around ten years later in 2004, and that was just a couple rolls processed in the bathroom.
Things started in earnest in 2007. I had gone to my first Photostock Fest. I left there knowing I wanted to do THAT! My grandfather in law had a darkroom in his basement he hadn’t used since about the time I processed that first roll. A pipe had burst and taken out part of the ceiling and it was never repaired.
I went about repairing it and and Grandpa had no problems with me visiting to use it. After fixing, cleaning, and obtaining a print washer, it was ready to use. Here’s the first darkroom I pretty much resurrected:
In this darkroom I cut my teeth so to speak. Sometimes I don’t think I really knew what I didn’t know!. I messed up a LOT and there’s not a lot that I made in there that I truly like today. It’s a growing process and I think a lot of artists might cringe at some of there first forays into any new medium.
I used this for about a year. With one small child and another on the way going someplace else was becoming more difficult. I started accumulating the things I would need to build my own darkroom. I got a smaller enlarger to fit in a bathroom cabinet and figured out a way to use a laundry folding table to hold the trays, and hide it all when not in use. Of course I had to take a 16×20 print washer and a bunch of trays out of my shower to use it, but at least I could print under my own roof!
In this second darkroom I started to gain more understanding of the process. I also experimented with Lith Printing a lot. Something that’s very fun but very time consuming.
As you can imagine having a darkroom in a bathroom is sub optimal and I started to plan to build a permanent one in my basement. I located water lines and drainage, power etc. I also got a Beseler 23c from Saginaw Photo when they went out of business, and I found a 6 foot stainless steel sink locally as well.
I’m handy but I’m not building-rooms-handy. I hired a contractor and he put up some walls, hung a door, moved a power outlet, and plumbed the sink.
I’ve printed more here than in the other two combined. I’ve geared my process and this room towards efficiency and if I get cooking I can print pretty quickly. It’s versatile and can print up to 16×20. It’s changed a lot since it fist came together. I’ve added shelves, drying racks, a RC print drier, the FED 4×5 enlarger just got upgraded to an Omega D5.
It’s been a wonderful experience creating this workspace. I enjoy it and often wish I had more time to spend there. Here is my most recent shot of my darkroom:
How many darkrooms have you built or used? What was your experience like? If you have experiences to add please comment below. If you enjoyed this post and know others who would too, feel free to share it via social media using the icons below!