The Online Darkroom Store

Tuesday, November 17

Requiem for my Darkroom

It doesn't seem so long ago that I was celebrating its
completion and now it's gone.

Well, that's my darkroom ripped apart and ready for removal to our new home at the end of the month. The cupboards and shelves have been dismantled and most of my darkroom and camera gear transferred to my mum's spare room for the time-being. It was the fourth I'd built and somewhat sad to have to remove it, especially since I hadn't used it nearly as much as I'd have liked. 

There's little doubt that writing three times a week for a photography blog has the effect of limiting how much time I can spend printing. Since I can't write about what I had for breakfast and illustrate that post with a pic of my cornflakes a consistent supply of source material relating to our art/craft/hobby has to be found. That usually takes the form of fresh photographs.

As it was just after I'd completed it in the summer of 2013 and
before the Leitz 1C made an appearance.

There just aren't enough hours in the day to go out taking pictures, develop the film, print the results in the darkroom, scan the prints and then put it all together in a post three times a week. Something has to give. In my case, it was the printing side since it's quicker to scan a roll of negs to illustrate a post than print from them and then scan the prints.

Digital photography blogs - as with most things digital - are much easier in that regard and make fewer demands on the photographer's time removing, as they do, three of the most time-consuming steps in that publication chain. So, against my best intentions and as I've noted before, The Online Darkroom morphed into The Online Scanner, not at all what I'd intended when I set out. Thank God for Omar and his series of darkroom posts - they at least kept the blog honest.

At this point I'd love to be able to say that things will be different in 2016 but I don't know if they will. The decor in our new house is lovely - provided you really like that 1980s look. So I'll be decorating more or less the entire house. Then there's wardrobes to build in, a kitchen to rejuvenate, a wood-burning stove to install, possibly an internal wall to be removed and made good, new doors to hang, a summerhouse to construct (that was a rash promise to Cath that I'm regretting), an en suite bathroom to enlarge and two new bathroom suites to install. And I'll be doing almost everything myself - apart from the wood burning stove. Get that wrong and I'd gas the lot of us.

The Leitz 1C with its newer sibling in
the background

After that, I might then get the chance to consider building darkroom number five in one half of the garage. When will that be? I honestly haven't a clue. It involves constructing two plasterboard walls in a corner of the garage and then installing the units and worktops from the darkroom I've just taken apart.

There's one issue that needs to be sorted involving a patch of dampness on the rear garage wall. If I can get that fixed then I might get away with just painting the brick on the inside white but if it looks as though it might be a persistent thing then I might have to strap the wall and fit a damp-proof barrier. Nothing good can come of leaving fine enlargers and lenses in a less than dry atmosphere for any length of time.

Once the darkroom is finally up and running I'm determined to do more printing even if that means posting just once or twice a week instead of thrice. What effect might that reduced output have on reader numbers? It's difficult to say. On the one hand, more darkroom articles might attract new readers but, on the other, readership is strongly linked to frequency of posting. My viewing figures have halved over the last month during which I've hardly posted.

So there's lots to think about over the coming months and I hope you'll all hang in there until normal service is resumed. Just don't hold me to a date!


marty said...

Hi, Bruce. I think I understand what might feel to pack up a darkroom and not knowing when you'll be able to use it again... anyways I hope you'll enjoy the remodeling work at the new house. A fresh project to follow might bring you new inpirations. I wish you again good luck.
Cheers, M.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Marty.

Frank said...

Hi Bruce,
As for not having enough time available to make prints, I can only refer to my reaction to your former post.
A few months ago I began thinking about reinstalling a darkroom in my house, after about 15 years of scanning and I did some research to find out what happenend in those years. The only innovation seemed to be the Heiland Split Grade system and I decided that that was the way to go.
I've been using it for a few weeks and after 3 sessions I now know what to watch out for and it does exactly what it promisses.
Beside saving paper and chemicals it saves lots of time. I now walk into the darkroom and come back with 10 or 15 (in my opinion)good prints less than 1,5 hours later. I would even say that it's a lot faster than scanning, post processing and printing digitally.

another happy user:

Success with moving house and your DIY project!


Michael Johansen said...

good luck with the new house. Maybe you could consider guest posters on the blog?
Anyway - I'll return back. /Michael

Geoff Holden said...

I can feel your pain on this one.
I had to dismantle my darkroom about two years ago as we were moving house. (Now, in my case it had been unused for a while due to the birth of my son). We're into our new house for over 18 months now, and I'm just now getting it set up again. A couple more weeks and I should be back in business, apart from finding time to both shoot and print.

David M said...

It will all be fine in the end. Possibly even better. You'll see. All good wishes for the move.

DougH said...

There are too many "Dry Darkroom", ie Photoshop, blogs available that a true darkroom site would stand out. So recommend printing wet.

Mike Archbold said...

Some will consider this question naive, but how much is there to be gained by first doing a wet print, then scanning that into digital VS. simply scanning the negative? As a follow up question, how much is there to be gained by doing darkroom printing, period vs. digital? At what point do you lose analog qualities for all practical, realistic purposes? Note: I am not interested in digital photography, but there is a point it seems beyond which only an analog purist need pursue. Or, possibly I have this wrong. I have been developing for years but I don't know how to run a darkroom. Some people are very disappointed when they see my vintage camera and I tell them I don't know a thing about darkroom printing. The fact that I can develop does not diminish their disappointment!

Bruce Robbins said...

Good questions, Mike. I don't think there's anything to be gained from scanning a print as opposed to a neg. in fact you'll normally get much more information from the neg than the print. So if you're speaking about screen images or you want to print digitally then you're better off using the neg.

There can be a lot to be gained from darkroom printing versus inkjet or whatever. Some people still maintain that a darkroom print is of a higher quality. I'm not familiar with up-to-date inkjet technology but I know there wasn't much difference between the two mediums eight years ago so I'd imagine there would be none today. Having said that, I've not seen an inkjet paper surface that's as nice as an unglazed glossty FB print. The gain, for me, in working in the darkroom comes from the process. I find digital to be soul-less and just a variation on a computer-based theme. Using film and printing in the darkroom is, as far as I'm concerned, a much more satisfying and skilled way of working. So, in short, the gain isn't so much in the appearance of the finished product but in the enjoyment and satisfaction to be derived from the "analogue workflow".

Your final question is an interesting one and I've often wondered about it myself. If you scan a neg and make an inkjet print, how much of the "analogueness" do you lose? Is there even any point in using film if you're going to print digitally? I honestly can't say. Maybe someone else will have an opinion.

Alan Jarvis said...

I feel your pain Bruce! We moved house 3 month ago and I still havn't started work on my darkroom. It is also planned to be in the garage, just about a third of it I plan to section off. Still thinking about the best way to get water in there, and how to insulate and heat the space. I would be very interested to see how your darkroom project develops.

David said...

May I suggest that if you need to display a specific finished print where the printing itself is of interest, or perhaps one made by someone else, then scanning the print is useful? You might want to do this to show (e.g.:) cropping or toning or some further artwork on the print surface. Always provided, of course, that it will fit the scanner bed.
Otherwise, I think Bruce is right; all possible information is in the negative and scanning the neg saves an information-losing step.
There's no disputing taste, but today there seems to me to be a wider choice of print surface in digital media than there ever was in silver-based paper. One advantage of this is that the image quality, dictated by the printer, and the surface qualities, dictated by the paper-maker are disconnected, offering more possible combinations. In the past, if you wanted a matt print, for instance, you were stuck with the image characteristics of the matt paper, like it or not. And vice versa.
We are all looking at screens today, of course. I'm sure it must affect us but I'm not sure how. Does the rise of split-grade printing coincide with the rise of screen viewing? I wonder.

Frank said...


I don't know what exactly you mean by your last sentence, but as I read it, you could be right.
When I went back to printing after 15 years of scanning, I decided to invest in a split grade system and the main reason for this was, that I doubted wether I was able to get the same results in the darkroom as with scanning (Imacon), postprocessing (silver effex pro) and printing (Epson 3880). Now I know it can be done thanks to split-grade.
I must admit, I never was more than an average printer.


DavidM said...

I was simply wondering...
Something must have triggered it, as VC papers had been available for some time already. I remember that the most I did was to work hard to get the contrast "just right" for the whole print and then, occasionally, but by no means always, give a brief (ten percent-ish) burst of grade five to blacken the blacks. I valued very deep blacks more highly in those days. Now I like to see detail as far down the scale as possible. I might have burned in a pale sky with grade zero now and again, but I always thought of these as remedial rather than fundamental. (...rather like pot ferri.) Getting the neg right in the first place seemed more reasonable than the intricate test-strips of DG printing.
Or perhaps it's the availability of computerised MG timers that helps to make it popular, but that's a chicken-and-egg speculation. Perhaps SG printing with ordinary filters opened up the market for something digital and automated...
I can't speak from much experience, but it seems to me (and I'm gladly open to correction) that it's a rather elaborate way to establish fractional grades.
As we all know, some very, very fine prints have been made without VC or SG printing. I conclude that as a working method, it may be a matter of personal preference, but it brings nothing really new to the final result. Perhaps the ability to print "difficult" negs more easily? Dunno.
Like you, I now believe I can get more control with a scanned neg, but I only use Photoshop. Almost heresy. I was quite a good darkroom printer, I think.