Hi everyone! As you are all aware, darkrooms are thin on the ground these days. In Astronomy of course we have shifted to electronic detectors and all the darkrooms have been converted to storage cabinets or offices. However, I had heard that there was still one darkroom where I worked, and as I shot more and more film I thought: well wouldn’t it be fun to actually make some prints, instead of just scanning? The physical weight of the big binder full of negatives which had been exposed to light for brief instant was calling, and I was more and more interested to see my work in the real world. So I asked around. Eventually, I found out where the darkroom was, and after about a month (really), managed to get inside. There had been heavy building work nearby and the lock was stiff and hard to open. Nobody had been inside for a long while, although everything was still there, in the cupboards. The work-surfaces were all under thick coats of building dust.
Cleaning up took time. A nice man came and hoovered up a lot of the dust for me. I threw out tons of expired chemicals and empty bottles. I should have taken more pictures, these cartons should be in the museum, I thought. I found boxes of Agfa photographic paper and agfa fixer. Searches on the internet revealed that they must have both been at least ten years old and I soon found out that the paper was grey and unusable. Agfa are no longer making consumer photographic products, since at least a decade, I learned. Under the sink were tiny tins of Dektol which I guess would have been at least that old as well, and in the cupboards were half-opened bottles of chemicals which were completely black. But there was a small amount of unopened paper developer and a small box of paper, and I brought some fixer and stop from my cupboards at home. I was in business! Towards the end of the cleaning and fixing, a friend from work who had boxes of plates from his Graflex camera in his office and who had studied in Rochester (yes, that photographically famous Rochester) helped me out. He was curious too, not having been inside a darkroom for decades. Myself, the only time I had been in one was during my physics undergrad, where we were all sent around the streets of Manchester to take photographs with Pentax K1000s and develop and print them afterwards. The theory was it would be useful to us as future physicists. It never was. But perhaps as street photographers 🙂
The lab itself is relatively recent, I think (and it is in a 70s building), but it is composed essentially of salvaged equipment from other darkrooms which no longer exist (so I was told by one of the founders). There is some nice material. Two big rusty sodium safelights. Whirring timers. A durst enlarger, a light box, and a very big durst enlarger which is so old I couldn’t find the manual on the internet (and a there is no bulb inside, so I haven’t turned it on yet). There is a nice paper drier, but it has to be plugged in dangerously close to the sink.
I took a few pictures, this one shows the enlarger and the light-box. And this is the week I am back to ASA 400 sorry :-). No, i don’t know why there are taps on this side of the darkroom.
The first thing I want to have a go at was to make some contact prints, and here they are in the tray (from an earlier roll):
Well, that was quite instructive: after spending all your time with the scanner tweaking each exposure, with the contact prints you can really see the under-exposed images. For fun, I made a contact print of all this weeks’ pictures, and it looks like this:
You can see that most of the other photographs are not-so-interesting wandering around Paris photographs, although the two guys in the middle were two characters I met at the “Salon du Vin” at one of the stands. The row above you can see some “irish coffee” that I made in my office. I am not sure, today, that we gain time by making the contact prints compared to scanning, but it is fun to do.
The last few times I have been in the lab I have been printing images from my films, mostly on scraps of paper we have found in the lab, assisted by a friend from work who has printed some images which have been sleeping for perhaps four decades and have never seen the light of day. I am going to go to my favourite film shop in Paris this weekend and stock up on chemicals and paper. Once I get good enough I’ll be making enlargements for my walls and also giving away some prints. Yes, it really is wonderful to see the images appear in the trays. And images on photographic paper really look fantastic. Yes, I thought to myself (after having probably read too many blog posts on “Emulsive.org”), this is why I shoot film.
For the moment, it’s more convenient to process my films at home, but it is great being able to print my images at last and see them on real photographic paper. If I can find time to do it, I will try to print at least one image from each roll. I am gradually filling up the space around the mantelpiece with images. Again, I feel like I am learning a lot, and it’s nice to master the entire process from pressing the shutter to having the image in one’s hand. What is truly wonderful is how simple it is compared to digital imaging. It would be a very sad thing indeed if darkrooms and chemicals were to disappear completely and be replaced by pixels and transistors. There is just no beating the “monochrome mode” on a film camera with Tri-X or HP5+ :-).