Chapter 14: Tap Tap Tap Tap...

How many times have you had a project day become a death-march unexpectedly? I was finishing up the wiring for the darkroom lights and I noticed a quiet tap - tap - tap sound. "Self, that sounds like dripping water," I told myself. Oh, boy, right again! I had these little flow-meters inline in the temporary plumbing to the darkroom sink, and one of them had cracked. It was rated for 100+PSI and had managed to break under 30PSI. I thought I'd just patch it out with a connector but then I realized I didn't have much else going on, so - why not just re-do the plumbing? After all, I was going to have to depressurize and drain the system, which would make a mess, and maybe I should just make the "mess to end all messes" and get it over with. So I started grabbing tools, put AC/DC on the iPad, and began destroying things.

Spinning Out Of Control

Of course a death-march project doesn't ever go as planned. When I drained one of the lines, the other one air-bubbled and leaked water all over everything. So I cleaned that up and, in the process, decided that I was going to have to pull the black sink off the wall to get at the pipe connectors, which meant that I may as well fix the drain while I was at it. I had connected the drain originally to one of the sink drains, and now I thought it would be better to connect it into one of the commode drains - a straighter drop, less likely to freeze, or block. So I grabbed the saws-all and chopped the drain out, dismounted the sink from the wall, and turned the music up as loud as it would go.

Since the room's electrical system wasn't hooked up, yet, I had all the power coming into the room via an extension cord on the floor, which got nice and wet and popped a circuit breaker. "Well! How convenient !" thought I - now was a good time to patch the interior electrical runs into the building's mains. I swapped tool-sets and crawled into the breakout area, LED flashlight clenched in my teeth so I could see. It should have been a 5 minute job but it took half an hour; the wires in the wall conduit were unlabelled and I had to figure them out. No problem.

The Lights Come On


Safe Lights

The safe-lights are mounted in a pair of machine-punk brackets that I made out of plywood and stuff, containing red-sleeved flourescent tubes. As you can see, when they're the only light in the room, it looks pretty techno-gothic in there. The speakers in the darkroom are powered self-amplified reference monitors, so they're on the "accessory" circuit along with the safe-lights. I pretty much am never in the darkroom without music, and safe-lights, so putting them on the same control switch seemed like a good idea.


Viewing Light

The image-viewing light is on a foot switch on the floor, so I can turn it on without risking dropping a plate while I fumble for a light-switch. I put a high-output clear white LED in it that closely simulates daylight; it ought to do the job nicely.


Left Side of Room

This is the way it looks with the room side-lights on. I used focused LED spotlights, because I figured that they'd make sharp, eerie-looking highlights. It works with all that stainless steel, doesn't it? If you look on the sink's counter to the right, you can see the wooden drying rack for wet-plates, and some of my prep area. When I'm getting a plate ready to sensitize, I clean it with paper towels and a few drops of ethanol then flow the collodion over it before putting it into the silver nitrate to sensitize. You can see the collodion bottle just peeking out from behind the paper towels.


Right Side of Room

The wooden tanks you can see in the sink are the silver nitrate tank and the cyanide clearing tank. When I've flowed a plate with collodion, it's ready to go in the silver to sensitize as soon as it's gelled up (about 20-30 seconds) At this point I'd turn the lights off and put the plate in the tank under protection of red light. I have a witchy-cool radio-controlled switch that I will use to turn on and off the room lights without having to run back and forth. The trays in the sink are used for pouring developer on the plates and rinsing them clear of chemicals.

I'm not showing a picture of the front of the room because the armored can-lights aren't both installed, yet. When one of them came from Amazon.com, the jar was broken. And, somehow I managed to only order 5 when I needed 6. That will be a snap to install once it's all arrived but it's exceedingly annoying to have a partially finished project just because you're missing a few parts!

I Lay More Pipe Than Kid Rock

The plumbing is all PEX 1/2" flexible pipe. The way it comes is rolled up, which is why it looks pretty wavy, right now. It should straighten out over time. "Should" being the important word. Normally when you're laying PEX tubing, it's under a floor or in a crawlway, and to go around corners you wouldn't use elbows like I did, here. Because I wanted the plumbing to be a visual element of the room, I exposed it and went crazy with the corners. I deliberately didn't make everything laser-straight, so it would have more of that crazy boiler-room look that I wanted.


A Crooked Web


The scale up on the shelf is a vintage Ohaus swiss-made lab scale. It's insanely accurate but it's just there for show. The scale I actually use is the $15 (from amazon.com) Ohaus digital scale on the counter underneath. That corner over there is my developer-mixing area; I've got all my alcohol, acetic acid, ferrous sulfate, etc, sitting right there where it's convenient. See the bottle all the way in the corner? That's 5 pounds of potassium cyanide. If I'm ever tired of being a photographer (or anything else, for that matter) all I need to do is pour some acid in there and breathe deeply. They say that cyanide gas smells like almonds and they're kind of right. The problem is that, by the time you smell the almonds, it's probably too late for you. It's also really nasty stuff if you get it in a cut - basically, the cut won't heal.


The Ceiling

This is the insanity I had to do, to make the pipes route around the room, using corners. The water comes in at the ceiling because I run the feed-pipe up through the roof supports, so if I cut the pressure gravity will drain it. In the winter I plan to leave the studio unheated and rather than having it freeze in the ceiling, I can just drop all the pressure by hitting a ball-valve in the basement and opening the faucets. The ball-valves in the ceiling are there because, for $10 worth of ball valves, I can work on the plumbing without having to run back and forth to the basement all day. You might notice that the red pipe is not hooked to anything. That's correct; it's just there for show. But if some day I add a hot water heater it will just drop right in.

I do like the way that the pipes provide some bright color to the room.


Knife Switch Plate

I went to Radio Shack and got a 1/16" audio patch cable suitable for connecting to my iPad, then clipped one end off and crimped the grounds and signal cables to some heavier copper wires. This whole set-up is designed to fit in the hole behind the knife-switch.


Audio Wires

I got a box of ceramic electric-fence insulators from Agway and ran a course of them across the room, then wrapped big curls of wire across them to the speakers, then soldered 1/4" connectors on the speaker side. I tested it out and I was a bit freaked because when I tried the speaker hook-ups no sound came out. I grabbed my ohmmeter and started checking the circuit and discovered that one of the fuses on the knife-switch was blown. I don't want to know what blows a 200-amp fuse! But it sure wasn't my iPad.

There is no "dark side of the moon." As a matter of fact, it's all dark.

I finished all this at 2:00am. So that was a solid 14-hour assault on the project, including 2 trips to the hardware store and a break for a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake. Damn it, I earned it.

What's Left?

This completes the "technical" part of the project. Everything is now in and working. All that's left is to install a few more nurnies and then paint. "Nurnies", as I was told by Adam Savage, are what special-effects people call those wires and doo-dads that you stick on a piece of set-work or a model to make them look more detailed than they actually are. In the case of the darkroom the remaining nurnies are arches of foam that hopefully will give the room a more mysterious, taller look, and some kind of arched front at the end behind the enlarger. I'm going to take a week or so and go back to working on the van, while I let my subconscious figure out what'll look best. Then I'll paint, which is boring but predictable, and finish the job by painting the floor a nice shade of kelly green.

(Chapter 15)