How I Built a Complete Photo Darkroom in a Remote Mountain Cabin

Read how the author converted his cabin into the ultimate photography processing center.

| January/February 1976

  • darkroom
    If you photograph with film, developing film in a remote location could prove difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. You can still develop film without bringing the city to the country.

  • darkroom

For me, photography is both a profession and a way of life. So, when I left Chicago and came west to an isolated homestead in southern Oregon two years ago, I (naturally) wanted to continue developing and printing my own pictures.

The New Hope Mining Claim on which I now live came complete with cabin, unpolluted stream running past the front door, and a spectacular view of the Siskiyou Mountains.

What it did not have was electricity (the nearest powerline was two miles away) which was fine with me, but posed some serious problems for my photo darkroom. Nor did my new homestead have an oversupply of the materials from which photo labs are usually built these days (Formica and stainless steel are just not native to the woodlands of southern Oregon).

"Well, what the heck," I thought. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." And, after some weeks of frustrating experiments, I did manage to come up with a practical way to have my cake (the darkroom) and eat it too (without really bringing "progress" into my part of the mountains).

I started by constructing a photo lab as an addition to the 55-year old cabin which came with my claim. Some might call the darkroom "rustic"; Its beams are a few scrounged 2-by-4's and poles cut from small trees in the neighboring forest. This framework was then covered with whatever boards came to hand and made light-tight with ordinary 6-mil black polyethylene. A thick Army blanket backed with another sheet of poly serves as an absolutely "black" drapery type door. It's dark inside that room!

So far, so good. But that brought me to a bigger problem: Now that I had it as black as a demon's heart inside that photo lab, how was I without electricity going to introduce the light I'd need to develop and print pictures?

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