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  1. #1

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    A tiny, cheap darkroom - is it possible?

    I've just stumbled across this place and I'm looking for advice. I hope my questions aren't terribly repetitive...I searched the board, but didn't come up with results that seemed completely relevant. Anyway, here goes:

    I'm hoping to set up my first home darkroom in my apartment -- specifically, in a smallish bathroom (which also happens to be my only bathroom) or in my kitchen. I purchased a book ("The Darkroom Handbook"), which made me think that it might be possible to do this without going completely broke.

    If I use the bathroom, enlarger placement would be very difficult. I thought about constructing a sturdy homemade enlarger table over the back of the toilet, but I don't think that there's a way to do that without making it impossible to use the toilet, which is obviously a problem. Also, securing the enlarger in that location would be quite challenging. My other thought was that I could put the enlarger on the floor, and lay on a mat on the floor while using it -- this might sound crazy, but I did manage to sleep on a mat on the floor for months without problem, and I figured this couldn't be worse than that.

    The kitchen has far more space, but still no obvious enlarger-friendly location. If I were to construct a table, it would be difficult to secure because of the aging and nearly paper-thin plaster walls. I could put the enlarger on the floor in there as well, though. The other problem with the kitchen is that light-proofing would be a nightmare -- the only entry to the room is a big doorway (no door), and there's a big window as well.

    Anyway, sorry to be so long-winded. The bottom line, I guess, is this...is it completely nuts for me to even think of putting a darkroom in a little apartment? (Somehow I feel more pessimistic about the idea after typing the above paragraphs.) Any advice or suggestions would be very helpful!

  2. #2
    DBP
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    I did my first darkroom work in a small bathroom. I used a small typewriter table for the enlarger and put the trays in the tub. You could put the enlarger on a table over the toilet while in use, and then remove the table after printing. It's less than ideal, true, but worked fine for many people over the years. You may want to consider a smaller and cheaper enlarger if you don't already have one, as some of the nicer ones can be more difficult to move. Where are you located?

  3. #3
    Stephanie Brim's Avatar
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    Lots have done it before you, believe me. Needing something you can put up and tear down when you're done with a printing session is what I'm going through right now. My suggestion would be to get some kind of a cart on wheels...big enough to hold the enlarger...with drawers/cabinets under it to store all your supplies. Then you just wheel it in and out of the bathroom as needed. The other thing that I'm aquiring is a folding table. I plan to put my trays on that. For a very small bathroom, a piece of wood over the bathtub seems to be a very popular way.
    No idea what's going to happen next, but I'm hoping it involves being wrist deep in chemicals come the weekend.

  4. #4

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    Thank you for your fast replies! What kind of enlarger would be appropriate (keeping in mind that I am a small person and can't deal with extremely heavy loads)? I shoot 35mm almost exclusively (though I have a few larger negatives lying around). I'm in Philadelphia.

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    Stephanie Brim's Avatar
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    You'll want to get an enlarger that will cover your largest format. If that's 6x6, you'll be able to find quite a few good ones cheaply.
    No idea what's going to happen next, but I'm hoping it involves being wrist deep in chemicals come the weekend.

  6. #6
    PhotoPete's Avatar
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    rkathleen,
    Now is a great time to enter the world of analog photography on the cheap. Everything yo uneed in terms of equipment is being given away every month on your local craigslist, or at least it is here in Boston. Check http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/ regularly for deals.

    As far as space, i think that many bathroom darkrooms use a piece of plywood placed over the tub to support the enlarger. A "portable" enlarger, such as those formerly made by Federal and others makes setup and breakdown easier.

    Good luck!

  7. #7
    DBP
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    What formats do you shoot? 35mm only, or 6x6, or larger? You'll have trouble finding an enlarger that handles bigger than 6x9 and can still be schlepped easily. For what it is worth, when I was carrying my dad's old Federal to and from the bathroom, I was 14, 5'2" and around 130 lbs. Stephanie's cart idea makes a lot of sense - maybe something solid like a microwave cart. You might also want to look at some of the enlargers that come with carry cases - I know Meopta made several and Federal made a couple.

  8. #8
    Kevin Caulfield's Avatar
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    There are many lightweight 35mm enlargers around. For the first year or so in my first darkroom, I had the enlarger on the floor. Eventually I built a table which I still use. The small table over the toilet option (for the enlarger) is probably the way to go in terms of using space effectively. Also the board over the bathtub still works well for me for holding the processing trays, etc.

  9. #9
    MenacingTourist's Avatar
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    I've been contact printing 5x7's in my very small half bath with great success. I recently got an enlarger to make prints from my medium format negs and put it in the equally small garage. Since the only time I have to print is at night after the kids are in bed the garage is darkroom ready but there's no sink or running water.

    I end up making the exposures in the garage then transporting them to the bathroom (which is just inside from the garage) in a film box. So far it's worked fine. Sure some people might think it's a pain but that's what I'm faced with and I do the best I can.

    Spend some time looking through the darkroom portraits thread (http://www.apug.org/forums/forum43/10966-darkroom-portraits.html) and you'll see lots of small darkrooms. I'm pretty sure David Goldfarb prints in an even smaller space than I do and is a great example of what is possible.

    Good luck.

  10. #10
    DBP
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhotoPete View Post
    rkathleen,
    Now is a great time to enter the world of analog photography on the cheap. Everything yo uneed in terms of equipment is being given away every month on your local craigslist, or at least it is here in Boston. Check http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/ regularly for deals.

    As far as space, i think that many bathroom darkrooms use a piece of plywood placed over the tub to support the enlarger. A "portable" enlarger, such as those formerly made by Federal and others makes setup and breakdown easier.

    Good luck!
    Looks like there is a good deal on a Durst there now. A friend of mine uses that model and it is pretty compact.

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