Show Us Your Darkroom #3: David Roberts

Roberts darkroom_4

If the many practical steps of traditional photography, starting with conception and ending with final presentation, can be compared to links in a chain then the darkroom is clearly a vital link. Darkroom is exciting – an opportunity to further mould the initial creative vision made with the camera. The facilities of the darkroom make a difference. Edward Weston’s darkroom at Wildcat Creek was noteworthy for its simplicity and exemplifies the principle that equipment is a secondary consideration in the creation of good work. So, with both the importance and caveats about darkrooms on the table what follows is an overview of my recently built darkroom.

Roberts darkroom_1

A kit-based, metal shed sat forlorn on the property that my partner, Kate Baker, purchased. Only with difficulty and compromise would it ever become a satisfactory darkroom so I tore it down to the slab and purpose built as a darkroom. The slab (which was neither flat, square or level) was 4×6 metres – an ideal size. Incontestable considerations such as ergonomic workflow, temperature control (water and ambient), cleanability (is that a word?), dust control and lighting guided the construction. Past darkroom experiences and input from friends added finesse to the design. The ceiling design, for example, resulted from the need to have safelights at an adequate distance from the trays.

Roberts darkroom

Much of my work involves contact printing while Kate’s focusses (!) mostly on enlargements so different printing stations were required. Four enlargers form the printing stations augmenting the contact printing area. The enlargers are: a) Durst 138S condenser, b) Durst 139 with a 301 diffusion head, c) Leica V35 and finally d) a custom ultra large enlarger (up to 16 X 20 inches) based on a Durst 139 foundation. Ray Strong was instrumental in the logistics and work behind this lovely piece of equipment. These stations line the walls and are physically isolated from the area devoted to the wet work of the darkroom.

Roberts darkroom_3

I built certain bits of furniture such as racks to hold easels, trays, drying racks and print washers. Virtually all of the manufactured darkroom equipment is pre-owned. High quality gear acquired over the years continues to be entirely serviceable. The sinks, for example, were acquired from one of the many institutions divesting themselves of their darkrooms. Shelves for chemical storage were made from an old wardrobe. A negative dryer was made from an old upright clothes dryer. The hot water heater was a $35.00 special from eBay. One of the few pieces of new kit is an electronic water temperature control mechanism replacing the old mechanical valves (bliss).

Roberts darkroom_2

A few practical but unnecessary features were included. Lighting that can be controlled to approximate gallery lighting shines on displayed prints once they are ready for evaluation. Different safelights can be selected depending on the sensitivity of the photographic papers: sodium vapour light or traditional filtered tungsten light can be chosen. Pull cords for the lights allow room lights to be accessed from useful positions. Last, but not least, is a reasonable stereo system.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour.