Barry Thornton's fine print photographer's workshop

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Site Copyright Barry Thornton 1999 - 2003

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Images and descriptions of Barry's workshop.

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 The WorkshopMonmouthshire, 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 Enlarger bench, main darkroomMeopta 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 models.

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  Bench for paper preparation and negpictures 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 Looking back towards the darkroom doorprint quality with a darkroom that isn't.

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 My main work stationremove 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 Detail of enlarger shelf mountingunscrewed 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 looking.

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.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 The wet leg of the 'L' shaped main darkroomleft 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 lot.

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 tight.

Picture 7; Print finishing area Outside the darkroom. I have a place to workPrint finishing area Outside the darkroom 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 Area for real workordering materials. I write my books and other published articles here, and publish my web site ( 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 The second darkroomsecond 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.


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