How to: Tips for your own perfect darkroom.

November 27, 2017

Honestly, the perfect darkroom doesn't come easy. In the last 10 years I've lived in 7 different places where 4 of which I've managed to do some wet printing, to an extent. Renting and not being able to build permanent structures, do any plumbing or electrical work or even have the spare space for something like a darkroom make the thought of dishing out some silver gelatine master pieces seem near impossible. If you want it though, where there's a will there's a way.

 

What exactly is the perfect darkroom though? I personally think its one where you are most comfortable in, it is efficient and practical. Each time I went to construct one I was always presented with different individual challenges to overcome, I'm sure your darkroom has some of its own or if you're about to build one I bet there are a few head scratchers to deal with. The reason behind making this post is that I had to recently pull down my home darkroom due to moving house (again). I think it was the perfect darkroom, a combination of everything I had previously learned when setting one up and what works well, effectively, non-destructable to a rental property but mainly, on the cheap. And now in my new place there is no possible room to have one so I wanted to share what I have learnt with you who might have a chance.

 

Circa 2007 my first darkroom build at home. Earning pizza delivery boy money and study part time meant it had to be on the CHEAP, so I had more coin to go towards that cask on a friday night ( you could probably guess the vast amount that was drunk in this toilet/darkroom/party room combo). This darkroom was slapped together in what used to be the bathroom of the granny flat I lived in. I learnt many darkroom not to's from this example. Dusty, dirty, no ventilation apart from the small fan you can see on the shelf to push some air around, all which was no good for the prints; but it gave them character and I like that. You know how I was saying cheap... In the top left hand corner you can see a red light built from a lamp cord, Adidas box, an Ilford safelight filter and black electrical tape. It worked well and its actually the same safelight filter I still used to this day (in a different housing), but what a fire hazard it was. Another darkroom that's not so memorable was one that was underneath an old Queenslander. It had only one solid wall, the other three were made from black builders plastic stapled to the crossbeams above. You could really only use it of a night time so the light wouldn't get through. Where there's a will, there is a way.

 

There's only 3 necessities to having a functioning darkroom; Darkness, power, and water. Out of the three water is the easiest, it doesn't have to be fresh and flowing. A bucket of water is fine to let resin coated prints sit in for a little while before you can give them a proper wash. Power too is not the hardest, most rooms have a point in them already and if not, an electrical extension cord wont burn a hole in your pocket. Darkness is the real problem of the three. My go-to when blacking out a room is simple-

I have used it in every darkroom build to seal the doors, its just a foam with adhesive on one side and works perfect to trap light out of your door jam. Then I will roll up a towel to act as the under door seal which also comes in handy for anything that gets spilled on the ground if its tiled. 

Blocking light from windows is tricky. In my first childhood home darkroom I simply painted them out. When I first moved to Melbourne I was (still am) fortunate to have a close group of creative type friends who let me use their laundry as my darkroom but the catch was it needed to be packed up each time once done. It had a large window in it which let in great light but not for printing. So along with the roll of foam seal and towel for the door I managed to block out the window with some small strips of velcro and black builders plastic. The furry side of the velcro I stuck to the outers of the sill and the hook side was placed on the builders plastic (the photo above is of the laundry darkroom and plastic covered window). It worked great and was easily removed each time I was finished for the session.

 

I said it earlier, the perfect darkroom doesn't come easy. You'll really need to find your groove and each person is different. Efficiency is a high priority of mine, I want the most prints I can dish out in the shortest amount of time I have. Having a decent size desk space to work from is great but if you cant achieve that make yourself a little toolkit. Grab a small toolbox and fill it with the little things that come in handy and this way you wont be fumbling for things in the dark:

•Permanent pen    

•Pencil                              

•Masking tape    

•Scissors            

•Black card                       

•Xacto knife or similar     
•Note pad

•Soft brush

•Blower

•White gloves

•Wire

 

An important piece of kit I couldn't recommend enough are these Ilford filter sets. If you can find one get it and use it. It beats stuffing around with those flip book cut plastic filters.

 

 

 

Wet areas are one of the most important parts of the process, it is the second last place your print goes before drying. Please ignore my electrical disaster waiting to happen and more closely focus on the 4 important things I think a wet area should have. A clock to time your developing, a fan to keep the air moving (only as a last resort if you cant have ventilation), a white light overhead so you can see your prints and tests and of course music, but that can be anywhere of course! Put a bin near by so you can trash any unwanted test strips so they aren't floating around and risking contamination of anything else. And talking about contamination keep a good supply of clean hand towels in your darkroom. Nothing ruins a print or your motivation quicker than finding a fixer finger print on a image you just spent a good amount of time getting the perfect dodge and burn on. Keep your fingers dry at all times.

 

There's much more to the perfect darkroom than what I have said but they simply come with time. What works well for me might not work well for you but hopefully its given you some ideas. Everyone is different and has different styles of printing, you really have to make it your own.

 

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