Red Light in a Dark Room – Part 2

darkroom supplies

Below is the second installment of our dark room spotlight. We were curious as to what kind of home darkrooms people have set up and what they are using to process their film and in some cases even print too! In Part Two of our series, we talked to Jesse. Thanks a lot for your input, Jesse, it’s great to learn a bit more about different developers and hear about alternative processes people are doing (or have done as the case may be!)

What is your darkroom? A room, closet or bathroom? Please tell us a bit about it.

For simple developing, for now my ‘darkroom’ consists of a bathroom/closet combination. Film is loaded onto reels in the closet and processed in the bathtub. This is how I develop 35mm, 120, 4×5 and motion picture film. As I take baths in the same vessel (not at the same time), I prefer to stick to developing only and any further processing is completed off-site.

For printing I’m a member of Cineworks and use their fantastic facility, The Annex. Cineworks’ focus is preserving the art and science of cine film, but they also have a tray line, developing tanks, enlargers and of course 8mm and 16mm processing tanks for cinephiles. I just turn up with chemistry and paper. It’s an invaluable resource.

What’s your process? Tell us a bit about your developing routine, especially if it’s tricky.

It’s all tanks. With sheet film, I use a jobo tank with MOD-45 and constant agitation. For 120 film, standard 120 reels in a tank. For these I use intermittent agitation or semi-stand development, agitating only every 4 to 30 minutes depending on the dilution. Recently, I started processing my own motion picture film; for this I have a Russian Lomo tank that can process up to 100ft at a time. I am currently testing film/developer combinations for this setup.

What is your go to developer?

My preferred developers are high dilution pyrogallol and pyrocatechin formulations. They’re economical and give fantastic results. But which one really depends on the subject and the camera format. For years, my go-to was Gordon Hutching’s PMK; I was shooting 4×5 and 8×10 sheet film and tray developing with constant agitation. This method gave me great results. But recently I’ve been shooting much more 120; with the smaller gauge, the need for higher acutance and experimentation with high value placement has opened a new avenue to semi-stand development. But in PMK you risk uneven development with semi-stand. This was part of the motivation to move to Sandy King’s Pyrocat-HD, which has become my new go-to while I learn it’s capabilities. I’ve been moving more and more to higher dilution/longer development times, so I’ll use up to 1:1:300 with 60min semi-stand development. This has given me great results, but I’m still refining, testing and experimenting with this combination.

What’s your all time favorite Film/Film developer combo?

Again, for years my favourite combination for landscapes was Kodak T-Max400 rated at ISO200 with PMK. Recently, I’ve been more focused on documentary style photography and for this my new favourite is Ilford Delta-3200 rated at ISO800 with Pyrocat-HD. Interestingly, during this new phase I learned the hard way that Ilford Delta films don’t intensify very well with sub-proportional intensifiers. I like the flexibility that sub-proportional intensifiers provide when shooting very low light, so I may go back to T-Max400 yet… I need to do some more testing!

What result/look does this give?

Pyrogallol and pyrocatechin are both staining developers, so in both cases, you can achieve two things… Superb acutance that really give a three dimensional quality to the prints and a beautiful staining action that masks grain and adds density. The stain itself diffuses into the space between silver grains; the makes clouds and fog silky smooth, smoothing out areas that might otherwise show more grain.

Have you or are you into any alternative processes, such as cyanotype?

I love alternative processes; there’s something magical about the process of making your own light sensitive materials and creating permanent photographs from scratch. My senior year portfolio was actually a series of 16″x20″ cyanotype landscapes. I was drawn to cyanotype because it is so widespread, so common; people take it for granted. But the process, even the traditional formula, is capable of some absolutely stunning imagery and beautiful, subtle tones. For my portfolio, I shot the original negatives on 8″x10″ film, from which I made full exhibition quality 16″x20″ FB prints. From these I created a 16″x20″ internegative using lith film which I used to print the cyanotypes.

I also spent several years making daguerreotypes. The original practitioners used to call them ‘a mirror with a memory’. If you haven’t had the experience of holding and viewing one in the flesh, you’re in for a treat. Optically, they’re different from every other photo process ever made, relying on the reflection of light rather than absorption. With a well made daguerreotype in the right lighting, the subject appears to float in space. I made my own plates and constructed a portable darkroom and fume extraction unit that fit into a rooftop box on my Volkswagen Golf.

Perhaps not quite alternative, while Kodak Aerochrome 2443 colour infrared film was still in production, I would buy 10-20 meters of 9.5” short ends from aerial photographers at a time. In the darkroom, I cut them into 4″x5″ and 8″x10″ sheets and used them in my 8″x10″ camera. I wasn’t happy with the contrast of standard cross-processing (as a colour negative), so I created my own custom AR-5/E-6/C-41/C-22 hybrid process. This required hand processing colour films in trays in complete darkness for over 1 hour at a time. But it made some fascinating imagery, helped demystify colour processing and once I made my first print from an 8×10 colour neg, I was hooked.

I haven’t done any alternative processes for a while, but I took a series of images back in 2004 that I’ve been waiting to print, I just hadn’t found the right medium. By chance I recently encountered some opportunities and so have started working on printing them in a particular iron-based process, but I don’t want to release details… yet. But I’ll let you know when they’re done!

What is the best processing tip you can give?

I have a few:

1. Know your materials. Always test!

2. Spend the time to understand how processing actually works.

3. Don’t fear the chemistry: respect it. Understand what the constituent chemicals actually do!

And the most important of all: Have fun! Never lose your curiosity.

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Beau Photo Supplies Inc.
Beau Photo Supplies Inc.