Darkroom – Bianca Conwell

Darkroom – Bianca Conwell

The first darkroom I had was when I was at University in the mid 1990’s in a storage room at my family home. The little Meopta enlarger from this darkroom I had kept for many years stored away, and I dragged it out again to see if it still worked about 8 years ago. 

My darkroom now is at my home in Fitzroy North in Melbourne. I originally made a small set up in my laundry which was fine to process some film and make some small enlargements, but when I headed down the path of alternative processes and started to make wet plates (and subsequently stained my laundry floor and bench tops with silver nitrate) I realised I needed an organised and more dedicated space.

I was able to build my current darkroom by sectioning off a portion of my garage at home. At 2.5 x 3.7m I had ample space for the large sink I had bought second hand, work bench and two enlargers. 

At the time I wanted to make the space as simply and inexpensively as possible, not wanting to make many permanent or structural changes to my home. I decided I would manage without ceiling lights or hot water, relying on plug in lamps and the cold water garden tap that was already there for my water supply. I painted, put down some rubber floor covering and installed an extractor fan as I felt they were necessities. Temperature control is relatively simple in this small space, being an internal ground floor room it doesn’t often get too warm in Summer, and is easily heated in Winter with a column heater. I have a portable de-humidifier which is fantastic for speeding up drying times of papers and carbon tissue, and a very well used item in my darkroom is my Sous Vide cooker from a kitchen supplies shop. I use this to maintain a warm water bath for bringing chemistry up to temperature, melting gelatin, making carbon ‘glop’, and processing carbon prints. 

This space is quite basic, but serves me well. Of course I imagine what it would be like to start again and have a bigger more well furnished darkroom…. One day perhaps!

At the moment I am mostly making contact prints (salt and carbon prints) from 8 x1 0 glass plate negatives in a UV exposure unit, so the two enlargers I have here don’t get much use really. The Meopta Opemus 7 takes up to 6 x 7cm formats, and the Durst Laborator 1000 which was gifted to me a few years back can take up to 4 x 5. Maybe I will make more enlargements in the future.

As I learned and practiced more alternative processes, equipment began spilling into and filling the adjoining office space in my home. About six months ago I decided to set this room up properly as a work room for myself. I now have organised space and storage for my camera equipment, papers and printing materials. Work benches along one wall for more storage, a home made UV light exposure unit, guillotine, scanner and printer. 

I use the island bench in the middle of the room for coating and sensitising papers for salt and chrysotype printing . The removable table top is covered in magnetic sheeting which I use when pouring carbon tissue. 

I can use the darkroom for any process that requires safelight conditions (such as wet plate collodion, silver gelatin emulsion making, sensitising carbon tissue), any chemistry preparation and all wet processing. Everything else is comfortably done in my work room.

Although both spaces are still a work in progress and I make do without a number of things, it feels quite a luxury to have enough room to practice the different photographic processes that interest me. The set up of my work room recently has definitely helped me to organise and better my practice.

Contact printing frame, large format wet plate negatives, chemistry and paper to make salt prints.
Darkroom 2.5 x 3.7m

Bianca Conwell’s exhibition The Briny Deep Gold Street Studios & Gallery 9 August – 1 October 2023

Bianca describes the making of Old Man Banksia a gold toned salt print in The Photograph Considered series, it can be seen here.

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Bianca Conwell is photographic artist working in historic and alternative processes.

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