Show Us Your Darkroom #8: Amanda Tomlin
My Darkroom by Amanda Tomlin
My current darkroom is only the second one I’ve ever had. The two were separated by 30 years.
Way back when I was thinner, sharper, prettier, and younger, so very much younger, the family moved from a comfortable middle class life in California, to an eighteenth century existence in rural France. I was 15 and an avid photographer. For my birthday, some 3 months after arriving, my parents gave me a Durst enlarger they got in Belgium for me. I tucked that first darkroom in a corner of the grain shed and relied on its distance from the door and my own shadow to block the light. I still have a couple of prints I made in there, and still have the enlarger though I do not use it.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I got back into film photography. Actually, I never left, I was just interested in printing at home. Sir did not want me to convert the downstairs toilet into my lair so I began researching other options. I ended up with an unused mobile x-ray darkroom, made for the US Army for field operations. It cost $150 plus $200 shipping and arrived in a large military-green box.
I picked up a Beseler 45MT enlarger—free!—from an online source. Slowly I assembled the bits and pieces and with my son’s help assembled the darkroom in my garage. The frame is hollow aluminum tubing covered in thick black plastic and held together with Velcro hook and loop tape. It has a built in safelight and fan, but no running water. It is very small inside—just over a meter in each direction and under 2m tall—but I manage to cram it all inside. It is meant to have a walk-in tunnel leading to a parting closed by Velcro. Just inside is a curtain that extends 7/8 of the way across the width of the interior. In the interest of maintaining access to my washing machine, I have forgone the tunnel and instead endeavor to keep the outer door closed to the floor (seldom accomplished—it’s a tight fit).
This is not a darkroom for any kind of shared encounter: it’s a solo show. Over the years I have changed out various pieces of equipment. I now use an f-stop timer, which is very handy, although, to be honest, I am always looking for the simplest way to the best print. Or at least the adequate print.
I develop film in there, make emulsion, hang up carbon tissue to dry, store packages I don’t want Sir to see, have a stash of candy, and yes, print. In real life it is much more cluttered than my idealized drawing implies and more than once someone has bumped into the soft sides and caused an avalanche within. I am not particularly organized and have lost negatives in there for weeks on end (in one case a negative–a very important negative of course–went AWOL for over 2 years, and turned up hiding in a contact print frame).
When I put this little room together some 8 years ago, I feared I might not use it and some few years hence I would tire of it. Not so, I am happy to say. Long live film! And my cozy, stinky, little room.
Amanda Tomlin is also Editor in Chief of Looking Glass Magazine