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Saturday, September 26

But I've no darkroom!

David M.'s week of darkroom related posts must have whetted some printing appetites but I'm sure there will be plenty of people who feel they just can't get started because they've nowhere to set up an enlarger.

It's understandable because temporary arrangements require a lot of dedication - not least because of the work involved in finding a solid surface for the enlarger and enough room to lay out the trays. And then, there's also scanning to fall back on which means that you can still see your photographs blown up to practically any size without having to get your hands wet.

In the middle of the last century, scanning obviously wasn't an option. Unless you could afford to pay someone to produce enlargements from your negatives then you had to do it yourself. That provided a level of motivation that's missing amongst many film photographers today.

Another wee magazine I found whilst packing stuff away in the darkroom is Photoguide from 1951. The article "No Darkroom At All" caught my eye. Reading it showed some remarkable dedication by the author in producing prints for publication and competition mainly during the darkness of winter nights.

Is this sort of approach viable today? For most frustrated darkroom workers the answer is probably no. Modern life isn't like it was back in 1951 - aside from anything else I doubt many men would be able to continue their printing in the dining room whilst their wives did the washing up!

But putting aside the different roles performed by the sexes in the good old days*, it might still be possible for some people to gain encouragement from this man's determination to do some printing. If that means that a few readers decide to follow his example then reprinting this article will have been worthwhile.



Last month we showed how it was possible to make contact prints with the aid of a special work-bench even if you have no darkroom. Now here is a solution of the more difficult problem of making enlargements.

Do you really mean to tell me that you are tied to the D. and P. man because you have no darkroom? That although you might manage to develop a film or two in your bathroom, you couldn't possibly make an enlargement?

Come, now, let me disillusion you. I have been doing serious photography for at least twenty-five years. During this period, I have not only developed more than 5000 negatives of all sizes from 35 mm. to quarter-plate, but I have made hundreds of enlargements. Many have been published. Some have won prizes in competitions. Some have been hung in exhibitions and reproduced in books. Yet I have never had a darkroom.

How is it done? Why, by the where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way method. And I never use the bathroom, spare bedroom, or cup-board under the stairs, for enlarging. They aren't available. I don't have to tell you how to develop a film because, with a tank, you can do that almost anywhere. It is enlarging which worries you, if you haven't a darkroom.


The first point is that if you haven't a darkroom, you just wait until it is dark. As simple as that! Of course, double summer time was a curse, and I often had to stay up until one a.m., but that's over, thank goodness! The natural effect of this is that, by and large, you do your developing in the summer, in a tank, and your enlarging in the winter.

To enlarge in the summer, you have to get everything ready and start about 10 p.m., staying up late. I enlarge in the dining-room and develop in the kitchen. Yes, the family is a nuisance. Yes, the washing-up has to be done first. Yes, my wife does interrupt me in the middle to get the supper ready. But I manage.

First, I keep my enlarger and my bromide paper in a specially-made cabinet in my bedroom. I begin by carrying these downstairs, which is quite a job, after taking other photographic equipment out of the cabinet so that I can lift the enlarger out. Then I fix my pendulum timing gadget on the side of a bookcase, take my dark-room clock and lamp into the kitchen, and plug the photometer into the enlarger circuit. The enlarger goes on the top of a revolving bookcase. While I am doing this, my wife is clearing the table and washing up, and the children are cleaning their shoes in the kitchen.


Next, I fetch the developing dishes, measures and bottles of solutions in from the garage and park them on the kitchen floor. As my neighbour's kitchen window faces mine, and he seems to spend his evenings practising signalling with his kitchen light, I have to cover my window even when it is dark. I use two large sheets of 5-ply wood (a relic of the black-out), which are kept in the garage. Before it is too dark to see, I stand these on the window-sill outside the kitchen and clip them in position with little screw hooks. These "hooks" are right-angled, not curved, and are screwed into the window frame.

The darkroom lamp goes on the washing machine, the clock on the window edge, the hypo dish on the floor. By its side I put a dish of water. I develop on a corner of the draining board. I am lucky in having a service hatch from kitchen to dining-room. The orange light in the kitchen enables me to grope my way across the dining-room and switch the enlarger on, for a little of it comes through the hatch.

Of course, I find and dust the negative with the ceiling light on, but once it is in the enlarger, out goes the ceiling light until the print is developed, and there is no darkroom lamp in the dining-room. I draw the curtains close. When I have made the exposure, I place the paper on the flap of the hatch, walk into the hall, close the door, then walk into the kitchen, lift the print through the hatch and develop and fix it. In case of interruptions, I have a cardboard light-tight bromide-paper box of proprietary make which will hold prints while lights are on.


When supper time comes, I shut the hatch and continue enlarging in the dining-room, while my wife does her stuff in the kitchen. Prints go into the light-tight box, to be developed when I have had my cup of tea and sandwich in the lounge. The essence of this system is my discovery that you can leave bromide prints all night in water, unwashed, without damage.

I choose week-ends for enlarging. When I have made the last print, the dining-room table is quickly cleared while the prints are in hypo. (Incidentally, I do not move them or use two baths of hypo.) The enlarger stays on its bookcase all night. Dishes go on to the hall floor until morning. The prints are put into water in a dish and covered with another dish, inverted. 1 generally leave them on the kitchen floor until I get up next morning.

Next day the shutters come down and the dish containing prints goes upstairs and lies in the bath till I am ready to deal with it, after breakfast. Later, the enlarger has to be carted upstairs, timers, dark-room lamp, solutions and measures put away, and the print washer fetched from the garage.


I did have trouble with washing prints. I used to put the washer in the kitchen sink when I thought my wife had finished. But she seemed to live at that sink, and sometimes I had to wait all day. We were both patient! Now I use the bath for washing prints. The washer stands in it and I attach a very long piece of rubber tubing to the tap on the hand basin. The bath tap is too large.

Having worked like this for some twenty years, I can assure you that: 1. No harm comes to your prints if they are left in water, unwashed, even for 24 hours. They must be washed eventually, of course. 2. No stop bath or hardener is necessary. 3. You can put three prints into acid hypo on the top of one another. When you add a fourth, put it at the bottom and remove the top one into a dish of plain water. You will only get staining if you accidentally leave part of one of the prints sticking out of the hypo, exposed to the air.


When they are washed, I blot the prints with photographic blotting paper and hang them to dry on strings fixed round the kitchen walls. My wife uses these to dry socks and dusters on. I generally have to clear these away to make room for my photographs, although they were my idea! I use little metal clips to hold them.

Finally, I straighten the prints by pulling them across the edge of the dining-room table, and flatten them in a book with a typewriter standing on it. Dare you really tell me, now, that you can't do your own enlarging because you haven't a darkroom? I shan't believe you, if you do! 

* Better than a society run by radical feminists anyway!


David M said...

They were heroes in those days.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Totally superb and a kick-up-the pants for those who say they can't because they have no darkroom.
Having operated a 'guerilla' darkroom for a number of years, before my current set-up I can totally empathise with this approach. Necessity is the mother of invention!