Fumbling In The Dark

There is a saying: Your first darkroom is for your enemy, the second for your friend and the third is for yourself. You learn many things from making your own dark room. Simple things, like what the ideal hight of a unit should be (for me, about waist height); where the safelights should go; how to blackout a room, which took several attempts to get right.

I had my first darkroom many years ago (not counting several attempts to use the bathroom), in a small shed attached to my mum’s house. I built all the units and even had a flap that allowed access to a chest freezer. There was a wet side, a dry side and plenty of shelf room. As I worked in it, I found what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t quite for my enemy, but I wouldn’t have said it was for a friend either. It did however work, and I started to learn how to work in a darkroom.

After this, I went through many years without a darkroom. I could still develop film, with a Paterson tank, but print making was out of the question.

Life went on, as it does, and then I was eventually able to set up a new darkroom, in a shed again! I took what I’d learned from my first darkroom, thinking I had skipped a step. Since I first started working in it, I’ve had to adapt it and add things. It sort of works, so I’d say it’s now for a friend.

My (somewhat messy) darkroom.

Blacking it out was troublesome, as it’s a normal 8×6 shed. Lots of ways for light to get it! I bought a lot of (in-fact, far too much) blackout material from Firstcall-Photographic. I then got a hefty staple gun and attached it to the walls of the shed, overlapping it all. Thick black duct tape helps to cover light leaks too.

Ventilation was my most recent addition to the darkroom, and much needed. I took a bit of a punt, not fully knowing what I was doing. My first attempt was a failure. I bought a solar powered extractor fan and a tumble drier hose. The extractor fan only worked in strong, direct sunlight and the hose wasn’t even slightly light-tight.

Combi-flex tubing, with an in-line extractor fan.

So, I did a little research and ordered some combi-flex tubing, an in-line extractor fan and a couple of vent diffusers. This was much more successful. I did still make one mistake. I ordered 100mm width tubing and 100mm width fan etc. This meant that the tubing wouldn’t fit over the fan, as it was the same width. Doh! I cut a short line along the length of the tubing, allowing it to fit on the other parts, fixed it with jubilee clips and then covered everything with lashings of black duct tape. It works!

I still don’t have any running water, but that’s OK. I fill a large bottle of water in the bathroom, using a darkroom thermometer to get the temperature right, to mix chems. I also fill two large trays with water, so I can place a freshly fixed print straight in one of them. Then after a quick agitation, I move it to the second one to wait to be washed.

I’m sure I will make many changes as time goes on, but that’s my darkroom for now. As for the mess, I think it’s part of my creative process!

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