8:21:14 My Home Darkroom on a Shoestring

For the past eight years or so, I've been going to a darkroom for traditional film photography prints, mostly at the community college but also at a local public arts space. Even when offered free darkroom equipment by friends going digital, I've resisted the temptation to set up a darkroom in my house. Partly it's the camaderie of working alongside others in the darkroom, sharing a passion for the magic of images appearing when coaxed by chemical baths ... something like that.

I've always, however, processed my film at home--developing negatives only takes simple chemicals and a light-proof canister. This really frees up valuable time in the darkroom. I'd show up with negatives, ready to make prints.

[Contact Sheet]

But for personal reasons, perhaps, I now need a break from the darkroom at the community college.

I realized I could make prints at home without an enlarger, if I was willing to accept contact prints only. One always makes contact prints before enlarging for those 8x10 glossies and since I've been shooting large negatives (approximately 2" by 3") my contact sheets really are wallet-sized prints.

All I had to do was make my basement bathroom--a mere 25 square feet, not counting the shower--into a light-proof space, set up a low-wattage light and shine it through the negatives, resting under glass, onto a sheet of print paper. Then turn around and develop the paper in three chemical baths.

Surprisingly, my pocket darkroom came together quickly. Yards of black duck cloth were hung outside the bathroom door to seal off light. A GraLab 450 timer from eBay for $35 to precisely control light exposures from my 15-watt light. A red light of similar wattage as my "safe light" so I could see what I was doing. Three plastic trays from eBay, again, for $15 with shipping. My WorkMate repurposed to hold the light and timer, the toilet seat and tank cover to hold the three chemical bath trays and on the first go, I had a contact sheet--good as any I'd do in the darkroom.

So for a few months ahead, I'll take a break from the routine of weekly trips to the college darkroom. I'll shoot rolls of film with less of that deadline--I need something new to print!--and get my contact sheets in-house.

The truth is, All equipment for traditional film photography can be had cheaply--or free--because of falling demand. The next step? Maybe a compact enlarger for my bathroom darkroom--eBay daily specials are often less than the cost of my darkroom tuition for one term at the community college!

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(click to enlarge image)

The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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