David Collyer on “Why Sting was wrong

by David Collyer.

David Collyer on “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been fifteen years since I last made a wet print in the darkroom……” and “why Sting was wrong”!

Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been fifteen years since I last made a wet print in the darkroom……

For a few years, I had a purpose-built darkroom. I was an antique restorer, and in the corner of my large workshop, I built a superb space with built-in cupboards, running water and sink, a Vivitar VI enlarger, and Durst drying cabinet. I could enlarge and develop prints up to 16×20” in size, and it was my sanctuary. When the stresses of running a business got too much, I’d lock the doors, turn the phone on to Ansafone, and disappear behind the sliding door and the velvet curtain for hours on end. Peace, tranquillity, and creativity were my panacea.

In 2006 I moved premises, and at a time when the photographic landscape was changing, I didn’t rebuild my darkroom. The equipment sat in a cupboard, eventually to be sold for a pittance to a student who had a very lucky day. I even got rid of my film cameras, a beautiful Canon F1 with several lenses, a Mamiya C330, and a Canon QL17 Giii (a black one to boot!). I had been seduced by the instant fix of digital and bought myself a Canon Powershot G5. I know, I know! I was the man who traded his Mercedes for a Nissan Micra. Don’t judge me too harshly, I was far from alone.

Roll on several years and the photographic world, at least for an increasing number of us has come full circle. Once again, I have a fridge full of film and paper, and drawers full of film cameras. The F1 is back, joined by other beauties, and for four years I’ve been processing and scanning negatives. But something was missing…

Last year we had plans to convert the garage, which as it was too small for modern cars was effectively a storeroom. A darkroom was part of the plans, but last year wasn’t a normal year by any stretch. Covid interrupted so much, and the plans were postponed. A few weeks ago, stuck at home, self-isolating as the disastrous Track and Trace app required, I was having a pee in the downstairs loo when a flash of inspiration struck. The room which doubles up as a toilet and shower was big enough to use as a darkroom. I had an old Meopta Axomat 5 enlarger and a few trays and bits and bobs, so I set to work. The first job was to make a small table for the enlarger which sits over the sink, resting on upturned rubber cups on the taps, with two legs at the front. The shower is my wet area. It’s wide enough that I can fit an old ironing board in it which is where I put the developing trays. I made a print washer out of a plastic storage box, into which feeds a shower hose, and there’s an outlet hose that feeds straight into the plughole. A blackout sheet over the glazed door completed the set-up, and it even has extraction. Before I’d even used it, an LPL C7700 enlarger complete with two Nikon lenses, easels, large trays and lots of other accessories appeared on Marketplace, so I snapped them up for a very good price. The seller, an ex-news photographer even threw in a few boxes of paper.

I’ve used the new darkroom three times now and I’ve already got two 12×16” prints on Ilford Fibre Based Matte framed and hung at home, as well as several other shots I’m really happy with. It feels amazing to be back printing again, completing the process. There is nothing in my opinion that comes close in photography to the satisfaction of seeing your work emerge, magically from the developing tray. I was surprised how naturally the techniques came back to me. Sure, I’m still a bit rusty, but it’s like riding a bike. Being in the darkroom is about as close as I get to mindfulness. It’s almost a Zenlike experience. Despite being a complete muso, I work in silence. Normally I have music playing in everything I do, but in the darkroom, I’m alone with my thoughts and the image. I can lose hours as the outside world slips past. At the end of a session, I’m already looking forward to starting the next.

In 1978 The Police famously told Roxanne that she didn’t have to put on the red light. I beg to differ. Carry on Roxanne, you’ll have much more fun. Just remember to wash your hands well afterwards, and use a good moisturiser!

Images © David Collyer 2021. You can see more of David Collyer’s work on Instagram @david_collyer_photographer and on Twitter @nedsoldman

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