In the dark

This week a very official man with a brief case came round, and I was feeling anxious. Not a big deal, but I am a serial worrier. As soon as he stepped through the door he smiled and said he has met me before in 2012, and remembered me because I was the argentique lady. Phew! Paperwork done and we got on to more important things. Monsieur told me about his camera (Nikon FM) and how he misses shooting film, and he’s got a little rusty with gaps in his knowledge so could he ask me lots of questions? He said he is reluctantly forced to shoot digital because he doesn’t know of any labs still existing that can process b&w and asked me where I get mine done. Here, I said, in my own darkroom. His eyes popped out of his head, asking me more questions about how I built one and where I got my equipment, and where I buy chemicals etc. I showed him test strips, contact sheets, prints and my darkroom notebook and he was agog.
So I’m doing a show and tell here, in case anyone else would find it interesting to see where and how I work:
My darkroom is actually a 2m x 2m hydroponics tent, bought from the Netherlands where no doubt they get more use growing weed. It cost me around 80 euros. It’s in our basement, which is a funny old thing because you have to go through the basement to get to the garden as our house is built on a hill. I’d put it right by the back door which was fine over the summer, but this winter I was freezing, in there with coat, gloves and a hat on. So we moved it’s position to the other end of the basement and now I’m toasty warm. Plywood on floor, junkshop furniture, bit of pipe to keep the air flowing. Sorted.
I have 2 enlargers, a Krokus given to me free and this one I prefer, a Durst C35, bought secondhand from the local free ads for 90 euros with trays, easel, enlarger timer, focusing loupe, red safety light, etc included. The lens is adequate, not brilliant so I’m saving up to change it for another. Edit: Got myself a beautiful, crystal clear Nikkor f4 now.
To keep my developer when printing at a constant 20°C I have a reptile warming pad underneath the tray.
Also, I’ve got several different film developing tanks, all picked up secondhand for a few euros or free.
I’ve just bought a contact sheet frame from ebay, but previously I had to sandwich the negatives between paper under a sheet of glass, and tape two sheets of paper together on the back as I was given free a box of 100 sheets of 4 x 7 resin coated paper that I don’t want to waste. Side note: when word gets round you have a darkroom, folk can be very kind giving away their old stuff.
And I write down everything. And I mean everything. When developing I log the film, camera, chemicals used and date everything meticulously. I once lost some very valuable family film due to expired developer, lesson learnt the hard way. I’m using up dribs and drabs at the moment because unlike the great Josef Koudelka I’m working towards reducing variables and stick with purely Ilford films, papers and chemicals; despite being as financially challenged as Koudelka I sadly don’t have his talent.
As well as more note taking I test strip the shit out of everything when printing. Exposure, focus, where to dodge and/or burn and I cut the 4 x 7 paper into strips to make it go further…
… and it all get stuck in the book.
Most recent I’ve been working with the negatives from my pinhole camera, shot last summer in Spain, and I’m quite pleased with how surprisingly well they print. Below is the first working print, before I get it exactly how I want it and make a final print onto fibre paper.

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