This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
THE dark-room of the average amateur is a work of evolution, and it is not hard, after a look into the dark-room to come very near judging the manner of the amateur who inhabits it.
My own experience in this matter of evolution may be interesting to those who have but lately begun their climb up the photographic ladder, and before whom there are now appearing bright visions of salon honors some time in the future. My photographic birth, so to speak, took place in the family bath-room, where I sat and sweltered during spare afternoons and nights in an effort to coax an image out of some little square pieces of glass, covered with a creamy white substance, which seemed to have a most persistent habit of turning black as ink almost the minute the developing solution was poured on. At first there were no conveniences in that dark-room beyond the running water from the tap. Finally, a little cabinet, to go up against the wall, was thought out, and a carpenter was consulted. He was given the idea, which he materialized into a developing cabinet, for one dollar and a half in the coin of the realm. This cabinet was supported on brackets and screwed into the wall of the bath-room. It had three shelves, and the cross-pieces, which supported the shelves, fitted into notched places on the side, like the shelves of a bookcase, so that the distance between the shelves was optional. The door, or lid, of this cabinet closed perpendicularly, just like some of the writing desks you have seen, and when it was down it formed a table, on which were placed the developing trays, while the little developing lamp found a place back in the cabinet. Many a dollar's worth of plates and films was wasted at the shrine of that cabinet; but that was not the fault of the cabinet, and through all these years of photographic trials and tribulations, with an occasional triumph that little cabinet has done duty. The bath-room in which it was first put up was so small, that there was not room enough for a chair in front of it; so a plank was placed across the bath tub and used as a seat.
Later I got into larger quarters, with plenty of room, and that little cabinet still rests against the west end of the dark-room, though it is not used as much as formerly. I have wearied of prolonged sessions in a closed dark-room, and this weariness set me thinking, and the thinking brought about both the evolution and the emancipation from the confines of a closed room full of stifling air. In this matter of photography, each man is a law unto himself as to when he does it, where he does it, and how he does it. The environment of each of us generally settles that matter. It did with me.
I found very little occasion for the use of a dark-room in the daytime, and, as the nights down here are dark enough to protect the photographic plate from fog, I determined to give the dark-room a rest, and convert my den, adjoining, into an all-round workroom - dark, and otherwise.
I procured an ordinary kitchen table, of yellow pine, 3x4 feet, which I padded with old newspapers, so that any-glass belongings that might accidentally get knocked over would not break because of the paper buffer and then covered this with white oilcloth it being easily wiped off and showing the least dust or dirt. This rests against the west wall of the room, and fits snugly between the west windows of the room. The Carbutt's Lantern occupies the southwest corner of this table, with its 8x10 glass front, facing north. The iron framework of the corner of the lamp thus placed throws a shadow over the central portion of the table, where the developing is done. Three white porcelain trays, 7x9, occupy the center of the table, and to the right the operator sits at the table; facing west are two 8x10 deep orange glass trays. On the northwest corner sits the fixing box. Lined against the wall are a few bottles of developer filled to the brim, and with corks paraffined, though the practice of making up much developer at a time is not followed. Usually all developers are made up freshly, used right away, and then thrown out. Saving old developers I have found to be poor economy. To the right of the center of the table are four graduates - one 8 ozs., one 4 ozs. one minim., and one 100 cc. There are also glass stirring rods, a thermometer, and a palette knife. The illuminant used is a 16 c. p. incandescent electric light. This is fitted into a wooden base, about two inches thick and four inches square, so that the glass bulb stands upright, and the lamp, attached to an ample supply of wire, can be carried to any point of the room, just like an oil lamp. When developing, this lamp is placed inside the dark-room lamp but when not so used, its place is on the southeast corner of the table, where along the edges there are marked measured spaces, from 6 to 18 inches from the center of the light, for use in gaslight paper printing. From a pasteboard tube, such as is used in mailing, I have made a very handy little arrangement for printing gaslight paper. A section of the tube, which stands about 4 to 6 inches above the top of the electric light bulb, was cut, and after ascertaining that portion of the tube corresponding to the length of the incandescent bulb, that was cut out around one-half of the circumference of the tube, and the opening so made was covered with four thicknesses of orange tissue paper. When printing gaslight paper, this is placed over the light while loading the frames, then slipped off and the exposure made, being replaced when the time of exposure has expired, and allowed to remain during the development of the paper. It is one of the greatest conveniences on the table, and is alike useful when making lantern slides. So far I have found it perfectly safe, and neither slides nor gaslight paper handled under it have shown any signs of fog. If even greater precaution is deemed necessary, the tube can be turned, presenting the pasteboard side to that portion of the table where the sensitive material is being handled, thus reducing the light to the minimum.
These are the main features of this table, which has taken the place of an enclosed dark-room. There are many other things on the table, such as ruby varnish for backing plates, bromide solution, tissue papers of three colors, mats, and the like; for, be it known, that this table is used for developing, printing, lantern-slide making as well as finishing, passe partout work, and in fact all the various branches of photography in which I am interested. There is no running water, and to this I attribute the cleanliness that necessarily has to be observed. Underneath the table
Evolution of the Dark Room from a Bath Room. 361 is a large bucket for slops, and also a large pitcher, which holds a couple gallons of water. These are only for immediate use, as, after fixing, all negatives and lantern slides are placed in washing boxes and taken to the kitchen sink, where they are thoroughly washed. The same method is observed with prints. The front half of the table is amply protected with blotters and old papers, so that any solutions accidentally spilled are taken up before they reach the white oilcloth underneath.
When any process is completed, all dishes, trays, and utensils used are at once thoroughly cleaned before being put up, and then before use again they are thoroughly rinsed in clean water.
On this table there is a place for everything, and I can go in the room in the dark and put my hand on anything I want. To any one other than the user, there is no doubt it would appear to be little less than a photographic pandemonium.
I formerly pursued a different method. In another room I had a place for everything, and everything in its place; but, when I had a little time to devote to photography, I found that before I could get all the needful things assembled and ready to start that my time had flown, and that I had to get back to real work. Now, I go right into this all-round den and dark-room, and immediately I sit down to the table, everything I want for any process, whether it be developing negatives, or printing gaslight prints, or making lantern slides, is right there to my hand, and all I have to do is to pick them up and go to work, utilizing my time in doing something, rather than in getting ready to prepare to begin to do something.
This table, which I have tried to describe, occupies about one-half of the west side of the room. Half of the north wall is taken up with a set of shelves, which hold part of my photographic library, many negatives, chemicals, and other conveniences. The other half is a kind of background carrier, and in front of the backgrounds is a screen about 6x8, which is used both as a reflector and to show lantern-slides at home. On the east side of this den is a comfortable lounge, where, undisturbed, the writer often takes a short afternoon nap, to fit him for his all-night vigil, which usually ends about 3.30 A. M. On the south side is a fireplace, with coal grate, and alongside of the grate a closet, where unbound magazines and other things are stored. On the east side of the grate is the door opening into the former dark rooms.
The windows of this den are hung with orange-colored shades, so that if it is desired to do any gaslight paper printing in the daytime, all that is necessary is to pull down the shades and close the door, when the light is perfectly safe, with ample illumination. In the summer months the windows are never closed, and as the room has a north-western exposure, there is almost always a breeze from the Gulf blowing into the room, so there is no lack of fresh air. If the room happens to get uncomfortably warm, an electric fan in one corner whirls a cooling current of air across the work table.
In this arrangement, which has been gradually evolved, I now find convenience, and, greatest of all - comfort.