What do you look for in a public darkroom?
Hello all, I am in the process of planning to open a darkroom rental place in South Florida, I could use some feedback on what everyone out there would like to see in a place like this? I am trying to get some real responses from people who know what they want in a public darkroom... I am looking at 10 to 20 B/W stations, plus having a place to mount and process all size films... whether it be by tray or by tanks for roll films... I am also planning on having a Gallery within the building for shows and to sell prints... I appreciate any real responses... Thanks in advance...
the main reason I only use my local darkroom occasionally is opening hours - I mostly work daytimes and they open 9-5 (ish - sometimes later) and only 9-12 on saturdays. Doesnt really work for me so I am trying to do more at home. If it was open 24 hours I would be there much more often. Also I would use a local darkroom that had large format enlargers - mine only does 6x7 and I shoot 6x9 and above.
But in the end I am adjusting what I do to what I can do at home - moving from medium format to large format so I can contact print not enlarge, alt processes not normal (though I think I can black out enough at night now so thats not an issue).
I use Rayko in San Francisco. Some things I like about them are-
The enlargers are aligned regularly
They offer the option of a private darkroom for a couple of $ more
The staff are friendly
A decent FB dryer and mounting press
Other rental darkrooms I have used have a couple of disadvantages-
Not replenishing chemicals enough, a big problem if you print a lot of prints in a 3 hour session. I'd gladly pay for the extra chemicals, just make them available...
Music that's too loud (pre Ipod )
Poorly lit wet print viewing areas. I think it's crucial to view a print in production in good light.
Best of luck with your venture!
I'll second scheduling at hours outside the 9-5 range that most people already occupy with their own job. The one public darkroom I could use here opens until 10PM on Thursdays. If it also opened on weekends that would be even better.
A small detail that made all the difference whether I use a public darkroom or not was ease of registration. No kidding: at Université de Montréal, there is a super narrow window of time at which you can register, like Fridays AM between 10 and 11:30. Utterly stupid. If I can't register by phone, pay by credit card or at least at the time I use it, and move my ass only for the purpose of using the darkroom, then I am not going. Sometimes people just fuss around payment for some reason (buy your credits first but you can't do that while the darkroom itself is open because the employee is not available, blah blah). Getting into your darkroom should be as easy as getting tap water.
Other ideas: solid and well-maintained equipment; some variety in the enlargers choice (condenser/diffusion/dichro heads/cold light), at least one 4x5 enlarger, depending on your clientele; that could also involve a sheet film development solution (trays/tank/other); a light-tight space to load film on reels; large trays; good print tongs (!); contact printing frames; an east setup for drying FB prints overnight and not getting them stolen or lost; 5000K lights viewing area; light table; drymount press setup; lockers; revolving door between darkroom and viewing area; some space to tone prints; the ability to use a different developer from the main one (i.e. space for another tray); everything at 20C (aircon in summer!); a choice of standard film developers (e.g. XTOL, HC-110, Rodinal, PMK, Acufine, Perceptol); the possibility to buy either paper/film/chems through you if you can have them discounted at edu price; lots of spare equipment (reels, tongs, trays, tanks, etc); a few reference books (Anchell & Troop, Roger Hicks, Les McLeans, Ansel Adams, Phil Davis, Barry Thornton, Hedgecoe, etc); a computer to post on APUG while rinsing the prints and a small cabinet to keep the Cabernet.
Using film since before it was hip.
"One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11
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I maintain a small darkroom in my home. I wouldn't have bought a 4x5 enlarger if I had access to a public darkroom with that capability for the occasional sheet film that I shoot. Also, my space and equipment (trays, washers, dryers mounting press etc.) limits me to 11x14 prints. It would be wonderful to be able to make occasional 16x20 and maybe larger from negs that warrant it without the huge additional investment in space and equipment.
In other words, although I enjoy the convenience and flexible schedule of working at home for most of my work, it would be great to have a public darkroom with the space and equipment that would allow me to further increase my capabilities when needed.
That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
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Before my favorite local darkroom closed, what I liked about it was:
[A] Separate darkrooms, but a common washing, drying, mounting area. This way I could listen to my own music, etc without bumping into folks.
[B] Storage lockers for rent. Even with a floor-to-ceiling (12' ceilings) set of lockers the wait list for a locker was almost 6 months. Can never have too many lockers.
[C] Good hours. They were open to 10pm (Sundays to 9pm), with last prints in the washer at 9:30pm.
[D] Friendly, helpful staff who would show/remind a newbie how to do things, within reason. They also had occasional workshops for beginners (helps drum up new business) and some more advanced classes. I learned some great stuff there. They averaged a workshop a month. Not enough to detract from the place, but great for adding new users. they were usually on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
A couple more considerations for you. And of course, opinions.
You will need easels, lenses, lens boards etc for each station. A way to secure the more portable items driver's license left as security or similar. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bushel!
I would standardize on one brand of enlarger to avoid having to screw around with different lens boards & carriers. If your'e going to have different light sources, you might have just a couple of Dichro or VC heads & the rest Condensers. To increase the utility of the enlargers use either 6X7 or 6X9 for small formats & at least one 4X5
What size carriers will you provide? 35/645/66/67/69? It's probably not worhwhile to have a full set for each enlarger but duplicates in 35 & 66 would probably be a good idea.
Multi contrast filters will be abused/lost like you won't believe.
You should have a basic selection of paper, film & chemistry available for purchase since not everyone wants to use D76/Dektol
Print washers? How many? Archival or one big ol' washer?
Reasonable discount on the fees, or some kind of a daily, weekly, or monthly package plan may help attract some people and help your business. The nearest rental darkroom, which I don't use by the way because I've got mine at home working perfectly for my own needs, offers discount prices for groups. Baisically a group of four or five people just rent out the whole space for a day for a reduced set rate. I think this is helpful for some users like students or camera club members who are eager to print but remain darkroom-less. They can just hang out in the darkroom all day long. I think this is a clever idea.
All of the above plus parking. There's no use using a public darkroom if you have to constantly go out and feed meters or move your car.
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If you do plan to offer the occasional workshop - or maybe even if you don't - your experienced darkroom clients will love you if you find a way to separate "experienced" from "newbies".
I was in a community darkroom situation while taking my first darkroom classes. As students, we were allowed in at certain times and only allowed in a certain area - but there was little enforcement of that, and there should have been. Even as a student, I was dismayed to pick up the tongs marked "FIX" out of the developer tray - or vice versa - and this occured on the "pro only" side of the room! Students (or less experienced workers) also had other dismaying habits, things like casually tossing in their prints to someone's wash cycle when it was halfway done, or randomly resetting the gralab.
Bottom line is to suggest you have as much of an overseer presence as you can afford. Even though I was offered discount prices to keep using the facility as soon as my classes were done, I instead went out and set up my home darkroom to avoid the cross contamination, and other things, brought on by allowing people of widely varying skill sets to share everything.