By Paul James
One of the most desirable facilities an enthusiast can possess is a private space in which to pursue an interest/hobby etc.. The Den's size and shape depends very much on the physical space available as much as the imaginative determination of the individual. In reality the range of such sanctuaries must vary considerably and includes in rare cases facilities where no expense was spared regarding dimension and content. A sprinkling of wealthy amateurs are known to have lavishly poured substantial fundings into their pet interest over the last century or two. At the other extreme there have been some remarkable achievements generated in the domestic environment. I cite one example, in which a complex model of a steam driven lorry of yesteryear was crafted with basic handtools, and by use of a simple lathe costing around 38 shillings in the 1950's (<£2.00 @2012 ! ). I should imagine that the determination and patience, together with skills of its maker would be nigh impossible to exceed in such frugal circumstances.
Somewhere between these two extremes lies the average practitioner's setup, either semi permanent, or permanently housed in a den of one sort or another. However, throughout the whole gamut of indoor pursuits it can be said that nothing impairs enthusiasm more efficiently than having to spend time setting up apparatus and clearing it away every time the hobby is engaged. Besides which other members of the household might tire of the commotion or disturbances incurred.
My presently enjoyed micro/macro work place had been at one time a very long serving B&W darkroom. Before that it wasn't anything but a recess commonly found beside the chimney breasting, in a bedroom that wasn't being used anymore. So I naturally wondered if I could survive inside a tiny darkroom that could be made there. Fortunately I am on the smallish side and slim so I gauged that the available foot print twixt breasting and room corner at around 28"x 58" would be just able to serve my purposes. Fortunately the notion that the 'darkroom' wouldn't intrude into the main room was a big bonus as far as my wife was concerned, so it got through 'planning' fairly quickly !
Its construction was given a speedy fillip after buying an old, rather utilitarian bedroom wardrobe for a £1. When dismantled, its ply panels and single narrow door served admirably. By locating the 16" door more or less centrally across the recess I could slip through sideways to enter, and could turn around inside to utilise the 2 bench style shelves at either end accordingly. I kitted it out with the usual things needed for DIY printing. Everything was to hand and all the static gear was conveniently located for maximum efficiency. The image above shows the finished den about 5" proud of the breasting line, which made all the difference to the interior size of the darkroom, without intruding onto the floor of the bedroom in any significant way. A useful clothes cupboard was squeezed in between the Den and the breasting, which can be seen on its left side, which oiled the wheels of approval too !
I fitted a universal vertical steel pillar onto the facing wall so that I could mount any sized enlarger there, and over the years mounted by adaptation several enlargers from 35mm to large format. Beneath the main worktop I fitted a work surface for the usual developer/water/fixer chemistry, which was out of sight normally but each dish could be drawn out when required on a 'roll out' plinth, and slid back again. This sufficed for small to modest sized prints, but for larger paper sizes up to 14"x 10" I utilised a different technique on the opposite bench surface. Here I employed a single tray ( in fact a cat litter tray proved perfect, which had high sides and an excellent pouring spout in the corner ). Thus the exposed paper would be put into the tray, and the developer/water stop bath/fixer would be poured into it as and when required. When each reagent was finished with it was poured back into its respective container. Of course I realise it reads poorly, but in practice I never spilt a single drop of liquid in all those years, aided I might add by the tranquility that I experienced in the den : absolutely no distractions, and never any feeling of claustrophobia. Indeed I reflect on the fact that on most occasions I had been very relaxed, no doubt bolstered by warmth, peace, and that feeling of not being distracted. I could also close the door and leave it 'as is' without having to stash away gear and sundries, if and when I pleased.
I spent many happy hours in my darkroom den over many years and then of course digital photography evolved, and so my days of halide photography came to an end, albeit very slowly. I had mixed feelings about it all, especially as the early digital cameras were expensive and not too impressive. That gradually changed of course , and my interest in continuing to output Black and White prints slowly declined, as the quality of digital cameras improved in quality. However, I liked the relative simplicity and the rather peaceful, unrushable engagement with the whole process of chemical photography. I don't think digital photography compares with the hands on approach with film/print processing, nor its ancient civilised charm. There is that undeniable element of creation with the silver bromide process too. Others may disagree? Its fundamental simplicity : Light, camera, film, chemistry etc.. is unique, though I never bothered to embrace colour film processing..........I happily turned out B&W imagery, and left the potential nightmare of colour processing at arm's length. Of course one of digital photography's principal advantages : Colour imagery without pain, was its selling feature, and that alone drew me into the next phase of photography..........................so my darkroom would become obsolete, or so I thought at the time.
Alongside B&W photography, my enthusiasm for microscopy also ambled along for many years, but it wasn't practiced with the same convenience that I enjoyed with my B&W darkroom. All the ' micro' paraphernalia existed on a worktop struck diagonally on an opposite corner of the same room. It was practical but inconvenient as everything was exposed to dust accumulation, and it didn't look too organised either. But as things turn out sometimes the then redundant darkroom begged to be revamped into a microcosm of micro/macroscopy! The transformation wasn't a quick one, as it is surprising how the physical confines and restrictions of one's den or work place can and does effect the way a hobby evolves. At first, when the enlarger was removed together with its auxiliary lighting gear and exposure meter setup, I planted my M20 on the bench where the paper easel sat, and thus I started using this gear in total seclusion and comfort.
The image above shows the inside as seen through the open door. When this was taken I was in the midst of converting the inside shelving levels etc.. There is as much room on the opposite side, and more shelving and cupboards etc for the accumulated gear of a lifetime's hobbying. The intimacy of this sentry style 'box' den, plus the very desirable facility of being able to leave all and sundry at the drop of a hat, meant that no time is spent clearing up, which was the norm in a more conventional setting in a corner of a room. The winter bugbear of cool conditions no longer applied, as only a very modest amount of heat was required to keep me feeling comfortably warm. Ventilation, though absolute darkness was now unnecessary continued with the baffled vents at top and bottom of the den. The eternal dust problems didn't disappear, but were reduced significantly, to the extent that I rarely notice it. An array of shallow cupboards with sliding covers helps keep all the glassware and ancillary gear out of harm's way. The original horizontal bench surfaces were elevated to allow the eyes to align with the eyepieces without noticeable stooping......... Yes I've always stood inside this minute den, though I might eventually fashion a swing out seat if needs be as I get a little older. I make a point of not spending more than about an hour inside, and on many occasions far less.
The joy of being able to step inside and pop something onto the stage for identification, then leave after a couple of minutes without fussing about tidying up or clearing away, never ever diminishes. As far as I am concerned the work and time involved preparing a suitable den repays many, many times over in convenience and pleasure, and without doubt saves infinitely more time in the long term.
|All comments welcome by the author Paul James|
Microscopy UK Front Page
Published in the December 2012 edition of Micscape.
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