February 15, 2010

Atrum Cella Novus

This is a blog to record the building of my new darkroom.

Now, as everyone knows, film is dead. Everybody is digital. This has been widely reported on the internet and in the newspapers. Not unlike the fact that barbershop singing, tube amps, and V-8 engines no longer exist.

Professional photographers who have not already converted to digital are dismantling their chemical darkrooms faster than high-schoolers are learning to text while driving. Amateurs, or at least casual shooters, no longer have the need to develop and print their own pictures. In fact, the do-it-yourself market probably peaked decades ago about the time one hour labs appeared in every drug and grocery store.

Also dead are camera stores. The few remaining ones can hardly compete with the electronic big boxes and other stores that sell digital cameras alongside the computers, printers, and plasma TVs. Besides, most camera stores made their money on processing and printing film, and that has all but gone away.

None the less, and to the astonishment of many, (including a huge proportion of camera salespeople) photo chemicals are still made and sold. Film and paper is still available, and so are tons of used (and new) cameras and darkroom equipment. Everything a film photographer needs is available through the digital instantness of the internet. No irony there.

So, what about this darkroom business? Why would one bother with the time and trouble and the smelly chemicals? There are those of us who remain in the darkroom for a number of reasons, but the main one has to be that we simply enjoy it and prefer the process over others. Nothing against the new technology (“some of my best friends …”)

Here’s the deal: we have moved into a new house and I am faced with the prospect of “having” to build a new darkroom.

I have had a number of dedicated darkrooms in my life, and the usual number of temp set-ups in bathrooms, laundries and kitchens. The first real darkroom was just after I got out of college and I rented a house that actually had a darkroom. However, it had no plumbing, heat, or AC. It was, however, a small, windowless room with no other purpose. Well, the heat and AC was easy. I added a heater and an air conditioner. The room shared a common wall with the laundry, so putting in a sink was easy, too. My landlord, who had built the darkroom, was more than happy to let me spend my money to do this.

Another rent house, after I got married, had a storeroom that was like-wise converted, but then un-converted when we moved out.

I built a darkroom for my employer at one point, and I then did the in-house photographic services for the company for a few years. It was spartan and had many compromises, but it worked and was a refuge for me since no one else dared go in there.

About 12 years ago, I got to build the home darkroom. We were going to add on to the house to give my wife, the artist, some studio space, and me getting a darkroom in the process was part of the deal. Great. We’re also now a bit older and “have more insurance” as they say, as well as a bit of disposable income, so I did it right. Real darkroom sink, central heating and AC, the whole banana. Except that I made it too small. 7 x 9 feet. Oh, well.

But, we have sold that house. (Another darkroom un-converted.) One of the reasons we bought the new house was because there was a perfect room for my wife to have an even bigger and better lighted studio, and a space where I could do whatever I wanted to. Ta Da – a new darkroom.

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