As promised, the second of our Red Light District series features the personal darkroom of the Pdexposures podcast’s own Tony Gale. It couldn’t be further from the first darkroom we featured – that of his co-host, Nate Matos; unlike Nate’s, this is a temporary arrangement which uses a tiny domestic space in the most efficient way possible. We’ll let Tony take it from here:
If you’ve listened to the episode of the Pdexposures podcast that launched this feature – and if not, you really should – you’ll already know about the abject hell that was my first darkroom. This is a palace in comparison. In fact, it all fits in so well that it’s almost as if this kitchen was designed to be dual-purpose. What I probably shouldn’t admit is that I chose this flat just for this one room, but I don’t regret that decision at all. Let me walk you through it.
This is my 35mm setup. It’s a Meopta Axomat 4 I got for free with a whole bunch of darkroom gear from a Rangefinderforum classified ad ages ago. It fits perfectly between the electric hob and the extractor fan above; when the enlarger head is touching the metal case of the fan, it’s the exact height I need for full-bleed borderless 8×10 prints. I have to chock underneath the baseboard with thick card strips to keep it stable, though. It’s also worth pointing out that I opt for a four-tray layout – developer, stop bath, fixer and a water holding tray, working from right to left. I wash and hang the prints in the bathroom, and having that 4th tray makes life a lot easier (and efficient). Also, the reason the developer tray is higher than the others is that it’s sitting on a tray heater; this photo was taken before I had any heating in the flat, so that kept the chemicals at a steady 20ºC. I don’t use it much now, but it’s a handy thing to have; it was the only thing making my old attic darkroom useable. Another handle little gadget is the enlarger light meter – the circular thing inbetween the trays and baseboard. My negative density and contrast is pretty consistent, so that little meter lets me get a usable print from most negatives without a test strip.
Two other things to pay attention to here are the hooks on the wall that the cables are hanging from and the blank panel to the left of the safelight. I’ll come back to those.
This is what my darkroom looks like when I’m printing from medium format negatives. It’s a bit of a different arrangement because of the larger enlarger, but it all fits. In some ways, I actually prefer this layout; it means I can put my paper on the hob instead of using the oven as a paper safe. (Note: always turn the oven off at the wall if you’re going to do this.) This enlarger’s a Meopta Opemus 6 Super, and it, along with the two lenses (a 50mm Durst and 90mm Minolta), are the only things in this room I actually paid for.
This is really all you need to block out a window. No point getting overcomplicated with these things; cardboard and duct tape have served me well in my life, and they continue to do so.
These are quite a nice feature that was pre-installed when I moved in. The kitchen is so small that there’s no drawers (or a freezer, for that matter), so this is the landlord’s solution: three bars that hooks can be clipped onto. During the day I hang sieves, wooden spoons and the like from them, but at night they become handy locations for trailing wires and safelights.
This is my favourite part. It’s gradually filling up, and soon it’ll be my reference point when I’m trying to find whatever it is when I want to print. It also has a secondary use of giving me something to look at when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil.
During the day, all the non-enlarger, non-chemical stuff fits into this cupboard above the extractor fan. Like I said, it’s like this room was built to double as a darkroom.
I’m also lucky enough to have a ridiculously long bathroom (who needs a bathroom twice the size of their kitchen? WHO DESIGNED THIS PLACE?) which just happens to have a high-tension cable running the length of it. The shower curtain’s at one end, and the rest is perfect for leaving prints to dry.
And the final benefit of having a darkroom in your kitchen? You never have to go far to get a drink. You just have to make sure you’re picking up the right bottle!
Thanks, Tony. If you want to see what Tony’s up to, try any of these:
He keeps saying that he’ll have a proper website sorted soon but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Now, let us see your darkroom! Send some photos and a description – it can be as brief or in-depth as you choose – to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll get to be featured on this very section of the site.