Musings on Photography

Ceterum censeo darkroom esse delendam

Posted in digital printing, equipment, process by Paul Butzi on July 11, 2008

Ok, maybe it’s not on the scale of the Punic wars. And God knows, I’m not Cato.

But my darkroom (built when I moved, at considerable expense) has been idle for a long time now. By ‘long time’, I mean a very very long time. And I simply cannot foresee a day when I might go back to doing traditional gelatin-silver darkroom printing.

From a usage point of view, the darkroom is already gone. Heck, half the space in there is being used to store bits of various decommissioned computers (all powered down and in kit form) and two Mac Minis currently acting as servers. Oh, and a bunch of uninterruptible power supply units.

And the reason is that over the past few weeks, I’ve been printing up a storm, and among other things I’ve made best effort toned B&W prints on the HP z3100 on matte surface papers like Crane Museo Portfolio, and on the current crop of baryta papers like Harman Gloss FB Al and Ilford Gold Fibre Silk. And, to be honest, the range and quality of the prints is better, by a considerable margin, than anything I got in the darkroom. I think that the baryta papers have finally closed the gap between gelatin silver prints (if your aim is the ‘air dried glossy’ look) and inkjet prints.

So, from a print quality point of view, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to keep all that darkroom stuff hanging around.

Furthermore, although I recognize that there are a lot of photographers who would sooner gouge out their own eyes than work at a computer more than necessary, I’m not one of them. I’m having more fun than I ever had in the darkroom, and that’s really saying something because I found working in the darkroom to be a lot of fun. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom. I remember, particularly, that November and December of 1996 were particularly dim and red, and there are quite a few other months which were very similar to those two.

So I think that means the darkroom is getting taken out of mothballs and parted out. Better to sell it all off, and get the money where I can use it and get the equipment where someone else can use it.

8 Responses

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  1. Ed Richards said, on July 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Nice picture! Reminds me of my year living in Oregon.

  2. Gary Nylander said, on July 11, 2008 at 11:30 pm


    I decommissioned my darkroom in 2005. Previous to that time I had my darkroom in one of the bedrooms of my house for nearly 8 years, then with money I won from the Canadian Press News picture of the year in 2004, I bought myself an Epson 4000 printer, I didn’t know where else to put it, so I squeezed it into my darkroom ( 10 by 10 feet ) . So for a while I had my darkroom divided in two, with the enlarger and darkroom sink on one side and the printer/computer/scanner on the other side. I enjoyed the digital printing so much, that I ended up selling the whole darkroom to my editor, I then unmasked the window and repainted my bedroom and turned it into an office, I made some nice cool looking furniture including a desk and printer stand made out of West Coast Yellow Cedar, Douglas Fir and Maple, all obtained from my uncle’s and brother’s back yard saw mills. I am now really enjoying my new “darkroom” and having great fun, no regrets !


  3. George Nichols said, on July 12, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Will you still be able to develop 4 x 5 film for scanning into digital files?

  4. Billie said, on July 13, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Yesterday I was talking with a photographer and educator, who was thinking about what to do with darkrooms. And he admitted that he could do more with Photoshop than he could do in the darkroom and that prints from a Epson 4800 where pretty damn good. But letting go of the darkroom is hard to do….like throwing out that old college letter-sweater or something that was very important at some time in our lives.

  5. John said, on July 13, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I am at the point of switching to digital. I have been using the darkroom for large format Black and White since 1972 when I built my first one. My current darkroom is a state of the arts set up. A life long dream that took years to construct. Now I haven’t used it in a year because of the fading supply of quality papers that I loved to use and the sense of lost I feel about my photography in general. I am determined to learn the digital stuff and get some wind back in my sails. The learning curve is steep, but hopefully will be worth it. I am glad I came across your web site. John

  6. prashant khapane said, on July 14, 2008 at 1:47 am

    I’m also using digital darkroom to make my prints. However, am not happy with the BW films as yet. May be I need to upgrade my printer. Any suggestions for upto A3 size prints Paul? What about color casts? Yes, these new papers are absolutely wonderful, baryta from Hahnemühle is good too.

  7. Gary Nylander said, on July 14, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    George, I’m guessing you are referring to my post, yes I am still able to develop 4 x 5 film for scanning into digital files, my film developing station is now my laundry room of my house, I use stainless steel day light tanks ( the 120mm and 35mm kind ) I made inserts from PCV plastic drainage pipe founds at builders supply stores to hold the film from flopping around inside the tanks , I load the film in my bathroom.

    John, Don’t be afraid to take the plunge !, there is a whole world of new fine art papers out there just waiting to be discovered, it doesn’t matter if you use a fully digital camera system or a hybrid film and scanning system to make you images , I think you will find the results to be worth the learning curve.

  8. Birgit said, on July 16, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Can anyone recommend a 35 mm scanner? I am ready to scan in my old 35 mm negatives.

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