To Darkroom or Not Darkroom--That is the Question!

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by PapaTango, Apr 8, 2017.

  1. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    I have always loved my time in the darkroom. Aside from paid time working for a commercial photo processor in the 70s, I have likely racked up more than 3000 hours in my own iterations of one over the years. Finally in 2004, I was able to build out my "dream" darkroom! Here it was in all its glory a year before I shut it down--and many additions and improvements had been made after these photos.

    Welcome to my Photo Darkroom Dream! (link)

    In 2008, everything was packed up for a move to another state. No space to set it back up--the entire affair languished in storage. I did continue to shoot and develop MF & LF film--and fill up archive books with negatives. Still another move to yet another state in 2011. This one had the space--and I started to get everything running again. Alas and alack--as Mr. Tolkien would say--aside from stacking everything in the new space it has never come to pass. Here is the status of things today:


    Of late I am thinking this thing over. Everything I have done over the last 5 years has been digital--and hauled through PhotoShop. The realities and possibilities of the digital darkroom and large format inkjet printing right on the other side of my desk has changed how I see my work--and how I choose to interpret and present it. As much as I love wetside work--I wonder if there is any real need to plumb in and set it all back up. Perhaps the 'niche' can be alternative process and platinum printing. Just plain old prints have no practical or economic endgame.

    Have any of you been in this spot--dragging out the old beasts and trays and having a go at it again--after working with the marvels of digital workflow? If so, I would love to hear about it--so that I can finally reconcile what to do with this basement space and all of the boxed junk that inhabits it... :confused:
  2. I moved in 16 years ago. I haven't entirely converted my bathroom yet. - But TBH: I'll get there! I don't want or need any inkjet. I read about shooting one's high res screen onto 5x7" paper in the LF camera. That could become a fun project combining digital capture with wet output.
  3. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Years ago, when I had my own place (well, the bank's place actually, as they told me in court) I did a bathroom / darkroom conversion. Used the bath (obviously !) as support for workbench, which was 8' x 4' of marine ply, varnished, hinged along the wall edge of the bath, with battens for support. Enlarger at left end, with elongated column fixing to ceiling bracket (I could do 20 x 24 without rotating the head), dev dishes reading to the right, entire bath turned into print washer with a syphon in the plug hole and mixer tap on low at 15˚ Celsius.

    Unfortunately, I had rigged up unofficial wiring to power everything (all perfectly safe - sockets just below ceiling height, circuit breakers, the lot) and the Health and Safety Nazis found out about it and ripped out the wiring. Since then, I have lived in rented accommodation with no bathroom (just a shower, which ain't the same), so no darkroom. Maybe when I get dumped into a retirement home I can fix up something there . . .
  4. I went to digital thinking that I don't have to hassle with a wet darkroom.
    I took a class at the local community college, and the bug bit me again.
    Working in a wet darkroom is so much more relaxing than working on the computer.
  5. I develop my own B/W film and then scan/print at the desk. A darkroom would be fun but I just do not want to take that on.
  6. rossb +2
    When I added on some space some years ago, I thought about a darkroom, but I'm now deeply into things digital that I never would or could have done in a real darkroom.

    Aside from missing the smells and stains, I've never regretted my decision.
  7. I never took down my darkroom. When I moved from MA to PA in 2007, the one requirement I had was that I needed a darkroom. Granted, it's also the laundry room, but it's been working ok for almost 10 years. I don't use it nearly as often as I'd like, but it does get used enough that I spend a decent amount on chemicals and paper every year.
    And I also think your idea of trying out alt process methods is a great one. It's lots of fun and offers many more possibilities for final look. I mostly do plain old silver gelatin, but I also do Mordançage and other things.
  8. I'm in the same situation. Took my dream darkroom down about 4 years ago and it now sits collecting dust in storage. I still have my film cameras 2 Nikon SLR's and a MF Mamiya but those are just hanging around collecting dust too. The thing about darkroom work although very relaxing, is that nobody sees your work unless you decide to display it somewhere. Nothing wrong with that, but in my opinion it is way more satisfying to download your pictures to your computer and blast them all over photo sites that let you upload your work. I was thinking the same thing when it came down to Alternative processes but who has the time... It's a shame since I put so much time and effort as well as quite a bit of money to build my darkroom, all for naught
  9. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    Some good replies here! While I take a LOT of photos--most of them will never make it to paper. It has become a matter of economics that what prints must sell. Presently I have displays and print racks in five regional venues on a commission basis. In season here in the Finger Lakes, an average of 3-4 sell every week. This is all through digital workflow, in-house printing, and archival mounting/matting. For the darkroom to work, and have a purpose--it must also have an economic result.

    This is why I consider the concept of some alternative process. One that can be marketed as a specialty art product--and maximize the "hand printed, unique form" that attracts those willing to spend for such things. I am not sure that I have established nearly enough reputation yet to capitalize on the investment or niche market interest. I guess that is the dilemma... :oops:

    The wife has suggested that I advertise and do custom BW processing and printing. Again, I am not sure about the demand or returns--but I see some pretty pricey rates for custom archival rated work from some small "labs". This might be an option, but considerable market research would have to validate jumping into such a line. Such can quickly fill ones time to become a full-time endeavor--and therefore must generate an equivalency of full-time income. My mortgage company does not have an interest in obsessive hobbies... :p
  10. You told you did work quite a lot in your own and professional darkrooms. - So what makes figuring out returns complicated? - The question if you 'll be able to run one or 5 rolls at once through your Jobo? - Basically the show has to go on, even if it is just one roll. Printing? - You see others' rates know your skills and have paper prices at hand. - I am comparably a rookie and would guess: 3 sheets and minimum wage should be covered by your fee.
    I'm not sure about the market. Looking at myself I'd say the average hobbyist is pressed to afford cameras and film and has no fortunes left to be spend on professional printing. - OTOH: wealthier folks might own negatives and request services? I wouldn't know what suddenly generates more money to be made than back in the 70s. As I see it B&W darkroom printing was a stepchild of technological progress. So all you have is your experience. And somebody else might wonder if it is cheaper to pay you $50/h or to make their own mistakes.
    For art sales you have the issue that you'll have to produce in advance instead of on demand since getting your dodging and burning repeated 3 months later seems quite a challenge.
  11. I'm a darkroom vet. We had one in the house when I was a kid and I've had a few different setups in different apartments and houses. That said, I really prefer shooting to hanging around in a room that smells like chemicals. IMO you've got to pick one or the other. If I were going to work with film I'd send it off for developing and scan the negs. Printing well is so time consuming. All of that said there are many, many people who are totally in love with the process of making pictures in a darkroom.
  12. I can't count the number of hours I've spent in darkrooms, or perhaps I just don't want to. For a long time after I went to the dark side.....I mean digital, I didn't shoot much film of any kind. Digital has progressed and I am finding it boring so I've begun construction of my darkroom Three enlargers because I have them and all the rest, safelights, timers, tray, chemistry, It's all there. Lots of film cameras in 35 and medium format. One of our members here just sold me a half dozen enlarger bulbs! It is taking me back to why I love this stuff and that's all the reason I need.

    Rick H.
  13. Buying a 35mm Retina and my first roll of Kodachrome ended my darkroom days abruptly.
  14. I wonder if there is any real need to plumb in and set it all back up

    I wouldn't have thought so, unless you get pleasure out of it. The very fact that you have to ask us and have not already done so after all this time probably means you don't much want to do it. So I think that is that.

    I would love a darkroom, in principle, but then it would mean I would have to go back to shooting film, and I am spoilt with digital, so I am pretty sure I will not print in the dark any more, unless I can find someone with a darkroom and I print up some of my old images for old time's sake.
  15. I am of a different fancy. I never wanted a darkroom since I could rent the one at a military base where the water temp was cooled and the developer was always fresh. And there was even someone to provide advice. What I always wanted and halfway got there, was a small studio where I could set up lights and a backdrop indoors out of the weather and do a relaxing portrait sesion. Half way got there. But lights have to be unstowed and that big C stand is hard to hide. Still, it has a place I can do a photo. And yet much of the time outdoors is just as good if the time of day is right. Oh yes, Oriental photo used to make my larger prints from color negs at a decent price. Lab work is like cooking spaghetti. What, you say you love cooking pasta? Each to her own ;)
  16. Personally, after shooting digital for over 22 years, the darkroom is exactly where my career is going next.

    In 2012, I converted my small outside ski locker into a makeshift darkroom, I was able to make up to 16x20 using a unique tray stacker system that had a very interesting exhaust system. It was not plumbed and was a pain in many ways, especially keeping it warm on those cold winter nights at 8,000 feet. I also did 20x24's using a Jobo 3063 drum, a bit of a trial and error but it worked.


    So it allowed me to figure out or not if I really wanted to do this and if it would earn income through fine art prints. Well I am here to tell you in 2017 that not only do I want to do it, it does make me an encouraging income. So in January I spent a sizable amount on house that has some 500 square feet of basement space and I am currently building out a real darkroom. It will have two Saunders LPL 4550 XLG / VCCE enlargers, one wall mounted that will project onto a custom drop easel and then in the middle of those two will be a wall mounted and horizontally oriented Sinar P2 converted to a mural enlarger. The Sinar will have a custom built Heiland VC LED light source and that will allow me to do up to 50" x 70" prints which will be processed in a custom roller transport paper processor that I will build later this year. As it stands right now, I will be able to tray develop 20x24 so that ought to get the income flowing again. Also on the wet side will be a permanent place for my new Jobo CPP3 processor.

    Here is both the wet side and the dry side to date, note dark painted enlarger wall, wife installing baseboard:

    wetside.jpg Dryside.jpg
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2017
  17. Mention of an exhaust system reminds me of my long go darkroom. I found that with an exhaust system you don't know where the air its getting into the the darkroom, probably under the door and through various cracks, all sources of dust. So I change it to a single port inlet system which I could easily filter and all my dust problems disappeared
  18. If you use both a filtered inlet and an exhaust it will work.
    If/when I move back into my parents home, I plan to fix up the darkroom with a filtered intake and an exhaust behind the chemical trays.
    Fixer and stop bath smell was what used to bother me, before I became desensitized to it <grimace>
  19. This is for B&W only.

    For color or where I have to do tricky manipulation, it is on the computer.

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