Picture 1; The Fine Print Photographer's
Workshop. Way back in the 1920s, the coal mining industry
in South Wales was already running down. In Monmouthshire, a scheme
was set up to encourage miners to leave the pits and set up
as small holders. An area known as the 'Settlement' was established
in the countryside far away from the mining area. With newly
built houses, each with a barn and a workshop and surrounding
land, they were dotted about ¼ mile apart in the fields.
We bought the house from the son of the miner who had set
up here in the 20s. The workshop had contained several large
woodworking machines. Before I could begin to construct the
interior, I had to scrape from every square inch of the interior
walls, roof, and beams a compacted layer of ¼ inch
of sawdust. I had to stop and hire industrial breathing apparatus
and vacuum cleaning kit.
However, the floor, though stained, was a really heavy duty
inlaid linoleum. This, even if not pretty, has proven ideal
for the drips and spills of the darkrooms themselves. The
other areas are carpeted.
The walls are incredibly hard brick, with no cavity. This
has given serious problems in drilling through when installing
various services, and also with occasional penetrating damp
when there has been persistent long term driving rain blowing
up the nearby Bristol Channel. A couple of external silicon
coatings seem to have cured this now though.
Picture 2; Enlarger bench, main darkroom. The darkroom
is 'L' shaped with the dry benches running down one of the
legs. The enlargers are a Leitz Focomat 1c autofocus 35mm,
an Auregon autofocus 35mm (but used on manual), a Meopta
Magnifax (up to 6x9), and an LPL 7451. I love the beautifully
designed and made Leitz. The Auregon (I have no idea who made
this or where it came from new having never seen another)
is a more substantial version of the Leitz, but I don't have
a lens that will work with the autofocus coupling. The Magnifax
is my main work-station. I have colour, VC, and condenser
heads for it, plus glass and glassless carriers and light
boxes for all formats. It looks ugly, but has taken a 10 year
professional pounding without problem. It is designed to work
well not look beautiful. The LPL has colour and VC heads.
It is very rigid and beautifully smooth in operation, but
its column to head reach is too small for big enlargements
with a four bladed masking frame, of which I have two, a Kostiner
and a Beard - both clumsy to use. I prefer my Beard two blade
The wall is painted matt black behind the enlargers to reduce
reflection, but the rest of the darkroom is white. Notice
the chain running across the ceiling area. This is stretched
taut between two hooks at either side of the darkroom, and
the white light pull cord is attached to this. I can put on
the light by reaching up and 'pulling the chain' virtually
anywhere in the room.
Note the stool at the far end of the room - essential equipment
now that I am no longer 21 while waiting for prints in the
developer. Also note another essential piece of darkroom equipment
behind the stool - a vacuum cleaner to keep the place dust
free. I am plagued by spiders! Getting rid of their floating
webs is a constant challenge too.
Picture 3; Bench for paper preparation and neg. selection
Behind me as I work at the enlargers is a bench with light
box and guillotine, under a wall with pictures of my family. There's a
much valued 20x16 at the end of the line which includes me
taken by Gerry Coe of Belfast when I ran a workshop there
a few years ago. You can also see the outlet slot of the Ilford
RC paper drier, the rear of the microwave oven, and the critically
important radio tuned to Radio 4.
Picture 4; Looking back towards the darkroom door.
The door is absolutely light tight. I am amazed at how may
films come into me for processing with signs of over all fogging.
When asked, clients say that their darkrooms 'pretty light
tight' or a similar description. You will never get good print quality with a darkroom that
Note the ready-use fridge under the bench at the far end right.
I have another large fridge/freezer and a freezer nearby in
the barn to keep my materials perfectly fresh.
The microwave in the foreground gets a lot f use. Its main
reason was to dry fibre test strips quickly to assess dry
down, but it is also brilliant for warming up stock processing
solutions to operating temperature quickly, and to re-warm
cooling black coffee! I had to stick a piece of rubylith red
film over the timer's blue L.E.D. I use a changing bag in
the darkroom when loading films in spirals.
Picture 5; My main work station. Note the raised work
surface on adjustable levelling legs, and the shelf mounted
enlarger column. The raised masking frame position means I
don't have to crouch over to work all day, and that I can
the raised work surface if I need a bigger print. The white
box on top of the enlarger light transformer is the expensive
but effective ProCo anti static film cleaner. On the wall
to the right is your editor's f stop printing timer chart.
It's there for decoration. f stop printing in my biased opinion
is a waste of time - a misleading cul-de-sac. There, I've
been controversial now! However, the Timer 2 from RH Designs
in the bottom right will handle both straight and f stop timing,
and is an excellent instrument from an excellent company.
I have all the other gizmos that go with it too. The Jessops
paper safes are a time saving boon.
Picture 5a; Detail of enlarger shelf mounting. The
simple mounting of the Magnifax is shown. The mounting plate
from beneath the base board is simply unscrewed and re-screwed to the top of a sturdily
wall mounted shelf. The man who makes the Quadro masking frames
I believe also makes fine quality mounting brackets for the
Magnifax if you would like something a little more professional
The effect is that the masking frame can slide underneath
making big enlargements without the masking frame fouling
the column possible. Positioning of enlargements on four bladed
masking easels is much easier too.
Picture 5b; Detail of enlarger column mounting. The top of the column is securely
fixed by an efficient but ugly 'U' bracket to a wooden wool
strut with a 'V' notch in its face.
Picture 6; The wet leg of the 'L' shaped main darkroom.
This was designed as a one-man operating space so that I could
turn from one work surface/sink to the other. Both the sinks
are from S.W. Brown in Birmingham. The one on the left takes four 12x16 dishes, and
it has a siphoned deep wash at the far end which will take
20x16 prints. Beyond it is a Nova vertical archival washer
which drains into this first wash to save water. This means
I can use the siphon sink for a first wash, then into hypo
clear, then into the archival wash. I have a large dish heater
(foreground left) for the developer dish. I like to use Agfa
Neutol WA, my first choice developer, at high dilutions but
at a reliable 24°. The sink on the right will take a couple
of 12x16 dishes. I use this one and its adjoining work surface
both for toning prints and for film processing. Note the 25
litre container of distilled water below the sink. I use a
Water heating is by a very efficient wall mounted Ascot heater
at the far left. I have had to be careful to mask its window
to the gas flames with rubylith film. Otherwise it is light
Picture 7; Print finishing area Outside the darkroom.
I have a place to work comfortably retouching, key-lining
and hot pressing prints. Hanging vertically on the left are
my special ruling rulers. These have a stainless steel edge
let into a transparent plastic ruler with coloured grid markings
to aid alignment. I also pack prints for despatch here. Note
the corrugated plastic stiffeners below the right hand work-top.
The print on the wall is a Fay Godwin, and my Ansel Adams
calendar is a must.. The circular tube illuminated counter-balanced
magnifier is a boon for detail work on prints.
Picture 8; Area for real work. Sometimes I have to
do proper work, like ordering
materials. I write my books and other published articles here,
and publish my web site (website.lineone.net/~barry-thornton/Default.htm)
And I have to have to do my accounts and VAT returns (ugh!).
To counterbalance that, I love writing and emailing fellow
monochrome fine print lovers in the UK and abroad from here.
Yes, that is a scanner. I do work in digital and Photoshop
when I need to remind myself just how superior, as yet, a
real fine print is!
Picture 9; The second darkroom. So that two people
can be coached simultaneously, without problems of needing
the white light on when the other person is working under
red, there is a second
comfortable darkroom equipped with an LPL 7451 enlarger to
cover all formats up to 5x4. The sink is another S.W. Brown
model, and there is a Nova vertical; washer to the far right.
The safelight over the door is a fluorescent tube covered
with 4 layers of rubylith film. It works well. The film drying
cabinet is in this room too by the door.