Re-exploring Film: Part One - Black and White
I have been developing black and white film myself for as long as I have used it. It is very cheap and requires very little equipment: A bottle opener, scissors, measuring jug, a developing tank and a light-tight developing bag plus chemicals (film developer and fixer is enough). Printing your negatives seems like more of a daunting process however it needn't be.
The road to setting up my own darkroom feels like it has been a long one. Taking my time may have been a blessing though, as it has allowed me to really shop around and find the best equipment and deals - especially within the second hand market. It is possible to buy everything you need to set up a darkroom new for less than £1,000, but there is far superior equipment and better deals only available on the used market, and there is a lot of used equipment out there.
I began printing again in London at darkrooms which could be hired by the hour, half day or day and quickly feel in love with it. When my wife and I made the decision to leave London I had two extra requirements for our new home in Bath: Extra off road parking so I could keep my classic 944 at home, and space to set up a darkroom. With this in mind, I began my search to find the most important part of a darkroom - the enlarger. I soon found a fantastic Leitz Focomat which is capable of printing 35mm negatives up to 20"x16", and also came with a Leica Focometer 2 both of which would have been produced in the 80's but are in perfect working and cosmetic condition.
Once I had the enlarger and timers, I turned my attention to what I felt would be the second hardest elements to find - the masking frames or easels (which simply mask and hold the paper in place). From my research it seemed that good new ones didn't exist unless you were whilling to pay through the nose.
I first found a sought after Pelling and Cross example which extended to the 20"x16" that I want to print up to, and quickly managed to get an LPL 8"x10" and an early Gnome 5"x7" afterwards. All were great prices but required some serious elbow grease. Having 3 masking frames is not neccessary but seeing as I print in these 3 sizes it saves a lot of time re-adjusting and using a giant frame to make small prints would be extremely cumbersome.
With the second hand items in the bag, I was able to purchase the remaining peices of equipment new from Paterson who sell a darkroom starter pack which includes a safe light, 8"x10" developing trays, tongs, beakers and other basics that I would need. As I want to print up to 20"x16" I also bought some larger developing trays.
Along with the equipment, some basic Ikea furniture such as work tops and a storage unit, I was nearing a point where the darkroom would be usuable. I managed to recycle an old A1 photo frame to stick wet photos to the perspex so that they could dry and finally cut some thick cardboard to the size of the window to light proof the room. Along with the cardboard, I bought some foam tape and adhesive velcro to ensure the card panels were secure but removable. The boards alone are perfect for printing at night. Daytime light leak is minimal but some blackout curtains over the top would allow me to print in the summer.
Over time I will keep an eye out for any equipment which will make the printing process easier or allow me to make better prints, but for now I have a fully functional darkroom and am excited to create some great prints!