The darkroom is where most of the magic in my life occurs.
You go inside, you turn off the lights, you turn on the chemicals and you get to work. If I had it all my way, I'd spend 10 hours a day locked away in the dark with the scent of fixer staining the insides of my nose green and the developer staining my fingernails permanently black.
I'd also never need drugs.
But we don't always get our way.
The following is what you need to set up a black and white darkroom:
- Darkness. Photographic paper is light sensitve, letting the light shine through (exposing it) is exactly what we want to be doing - but we want to be doing it in a controlled fashion. Thats why we need...
- An Enlarger. Preferably a good one - like most things in photography, it pays to have quality equipment. This enlarger must have two things: a negative carrier and a lens. In reality, there's a lot more they need to have, but I'll leave at that here.
- A Safe Light. So I was exagerating a wee bit. You're not completely in the dark - it's important to be able to see what you're doing at time. Photographic paper is made to allow certain types of light to shine upon it without the paper being exposed - usually this light is in the reddish end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, a safe light at too high of an intensity can still cause damage, so one tends to keep it low.
- A water source. This needs to be plentiful and reliable. When I'm in the darkroom I often realize that photography is as reliant on water as it is on light to make the magic happen. Filtering is a good idea, tempered water is an even better one. Most darkroom chemicals are sensitive to the temperature of the water. The more you can control in this department the better.
- Speaking of darkroom chemicals, you need those too. At a minimum one needs developer, fixer, stop bath, and some sort of hypo clear. There are many more, and you never know what you might need - a well stocked chemicals cabinet makes your darkroom more versatile and flexible.
- Negatives and Paper. Obviously you're going to want something to print, and you're going to want something to print on...
- Timer(s). Every step of darkroom activity involves time, and almost always the steps need to be precise. If the print you're working on needs to be in the developer for two minutes, and you leave it in for 2:15, you're not going to be happy with the results. I find having at least two of these devices very handy.
- Printing tools. These include, but are not limited to: burning and dodging tools, an eisel to hold the paper you're working with and filters to change the quality of light coming from the enlarger.
- Processing tools. Developing a print is all about moving the paper through several chemical baths. You're going to need: trays to hold the chemicals, tongs and/or gloves to help you move the paper, all sorts of beakers and vials and buckets and graduated cylinders to help you assemble your alchemy. You're not turning lead into gold, but you are transforming silver.
- Ventilation. Critical. Most of the chemicals you'll be using are noxious, toxic, or both. Why suffer any more than you have to?
- Music. I can't stress this enough. You're going to be in a closed room for hours and hours at a time with a lot of challenging things going on - but also with a lot of spare time. Some tunes to keep you occupied is a good idea. Plus: I find dancing keeps me alert. I do a lot of the darkroom boogie.
- A good sense of humor/patience/annoyance tolerance. Making a few shitty prints takes very little time and effort. Doing it right can take forever.
You get all these things, and a spare room to put them in, and you're in business. Oh, and by the way... if anyone in New York City decides to build one of these contraptions, let me know. You just found the key to my heart.