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Friday, 04 June 2010


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Bah. Fagles. Better poet than translator. Stick with Lattimore's translations. As close as reading the actual Greek as you can get.

Have fun! I just got my scanner back last weekend (it was on loan to a friend in Nashville for a year and a bit), and one of many things I'm now considering is what my own next scanning project will be. I've done fairly well on the 1969-1977 negatives previously, and I'm thinking I need to get into the the 1985-1999 set (more color there).

As you say, nobody else is going to. I've been doing a bit of preliminary thought on places to give copies of stuff -- school archivists and historical societies in places I spent time, basically.

I, of course, think you'd be better served by scanning your negatives, rather than just making prints from them. I know you didn't just not think of that, though; go ahead and do it your way!

"I can just tear the black plastic off the windows and have my basement back."

That's what I did years ago. Great minds think alike.

Hello Mike,

I did that very thing many, many years ago with my first darkroom in the basement. Made a couple of custom frames from wood, covered 'em with heavy black plastic; viola instant "darkroom"! And, the "room" feels very spacious, it doesn't get humid, no "tight space" feel...overall, a very nice place to work.

That's the keyword, though: WORK! You better get to it cuz ya know we're going to keep asking: Are ya done, yet? :)

So you didn't win the lottery...

It's all about the Joy of Film!

I lived for a while in the 70s/80s in (West) Germany, where every house had to have by law a cellar to use as a bomb shelter, and in our house there was a cellar bathroom as well. Perfect darkroom, as your ATA friend says. My father taught me all that I ever knew about film development and processing in that darkroom, and I still have all his old negatives. I have scanned them all in to an external disk and a whole bunch of DVDs rather than print them out (he averaged about 500 photos a year from 1952 when he left school to the late 90s, mostly places he travelled to, not so many people). I loaded about 2000 of the best shots into my computer and they're now my screensaver show, which is at least one way of bringing them to life.

I also remember doing badly with translating ancient Latin at school. "timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" sticks in mind from the Aeneid - "I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts" I think. These days it's Greeks bearing gilts that one has to worry about in the bond markets.

I think building a darkroom room is a great idea, but there is a third way: you can buy a scanner that is set up to handle film and it will give you all of your images in a format that is immediately usable in the digital world.

I'm a tad jealous of those with basements/cellars, they seem to be quite rare in the UK.
I'd love to have a part time darkroom, part time wine cellar, combining two hobbies in one.

I can suggest one reason that a dedicated darkroom might be preferable to light-proffing the entire basement. That reason is "dust".

In your enlarger dust becomes globs, or something similarly bigger. It is much easier to keep a smaller dedicated room dust-free, or a least dust-reduced.

On the other hand, there is certainly significant effort to build that dedicated dust-reduced enclosure.

I wonder what the neighbors will think...

Fortunately, that's not going to be a problem. My entire house is loaded with dust, which I strongly suspect comes from that shredded paper insulation that has probably also settled in the walls, leaving a foot or two at the tops of the walls uninsulated. But the basement is dust-free. As I say, fortunately.


I doubt very much the neighbors will think anything, unless they peer down into my widow wells and somehow discern that they're seeing black plastic instead of simple darkness. I don't imagine it would be easy to tell the difference even if you were trying to, and I can't imagine why anyone would try to.

Besides, one of my neighbors is a pretty good amateur photographer, and reads TOP! If anyone else wants to know, I'll just tell 'em.


Or the garage! I just cleaned mine out and now use it everyday because it's not down in the basement, where nothing and no one else is. Yes, we like to do things by ourselves...but the garage door constantly reminds me that I have work to do and that helps motivate me.

I don't have a darkroom there, but I am practicing my lighting techniques and macro there.

So for some months now I've been considering building a darkroom in my basement...

Mike, I've found that going public with a goal, or at least airing it with those most likely to support you, does help give one a kick towards one's goal, so good on you for stating it openly.

In my own case, those goals that galvanised me most were those that I knew would haunt me forever and have me disappointed with myself if I didn't follow through with my promise. The final straw for one was the sudden realisation of just how much older I had become since I first told myself I was going to do it. Does it help you to be told that the "some months" were really at least fourteen? Does THAT help spur you on? :)

I'm really pleased to hear you're on you way! And most interested to hear of your experiences. Bravo!

I find aging (I'm now 54) to be bittersweet...things that never were will never be. And yet, that answers many questions about the future for me, and I find comfort in certainty finally creeping into my life....

Come to Texas! My darkroom is still completly set up to print, the only problem is that all the chemicals and paper are over eight years old so your prints might be a little off! And then theres all the assorted items that seem to have made their way into the wet sink like old magazines, leftover halloween candy,and miscellaneous pieces of broken junk!I cant really describe the items on the floor because they are too densly packed. But we still officially call it "my darkroom" not a closet!

A question for your friend Mr Hartmann.
Which is the more accurate translation of Tacitus?
"you have made a desert and called it peace"
"you have made a wilderness and called it peace".
Idle curiosity on Friday, nothing more.

We have a catch-all closet we still call "the darkroom" because we used it to process film thirty years ago. "Where's the packing tape? Oh, in the darkroom." Mystifies visitors.

As for Homer, Fagles is great for the Iliad, but for my money it's Fitzgerald over anyone for the Odyssey. I've taught both, and Fitzgerald's is one of the best translations of all times, along with Horace Gregory's Metamorphoses and Seamus Heany's Beowulf. And Latimore? Like Pope, superseded.

Good luck with the new project.

If the darkroom idea doesn't work out, you could always turn it into a dungeon... :)

Don't be so hard on Pope - I think he subcontracted the translation of the Odyssey.


I don't know if you get along with audio books, but Ian McKellan's unabridged reading of Fagles' tranlsation of The Odyssey gets great reviews. This way, you can enjoy your darkroom and your Odyssey at the same time.

But if you'd rather read the Odyssey yourself, Robert Fitzgerald's limpid and musical blank verse is a pleasure no one should miss.

You give some credible and sober justifications for having a darkroom, but what about the immensely fun and rewarding part?

Slow on the uptake here, but nice metaphor for your return to a home darkroom. Looking forward to the saga (though I suspect the revised project will take you all of three afternoons or evenings).

Enough with the writing,man; get out that duct-tape and start darkrooming!

I hope you have started on the Odyssey: It is one of the classics that has to be read. As for translations, yes, life is too short for Pope and the Fagles is a good read. (Slightly less 'academic' than the Lattimore - which is a good translation but as good as the Fagles which conveys more of the emotion and drama of the text.)

As for building a darkroom, I am slightly jealous. I'd love a darkroom and I, mostly, shoot digital but feel you can't beat working in the darkroom.


Mike - one long shot caveat; since light leaks will be your enemy, if the hot water heater and furnace are natural gas or propane powered and are in your basement, watch out for light leaks from pilot lights or when the burners kick on. Even through the protective plate some water heater burners can send light out through the vents. They're designed not to leak fumes...light leaks were not a design consideration.

(I started setting up my basement "darkroom" a few days ago; I cleaned off my long-stored desk, plugged in a long-stored computer and am upgrading that so that I can have a digital "darkroom" in a quiet part of the house, dedicated strictly to photography. Editing photos on my laptop in the living room simply isn't cutting for me anymore. I do not expect light leaks from the water heater pilot light to be a problem).



Going back to the darkroom sounds fun. In my few back-to-film flings recently, I've found it's all great as long as it stays all analog. For me, scanning takes the fun out of it.

I know lots of people do great work from film to scan to digital print. I've concluded that for me, keeping digital and analog separate works the best.

Many moons ago, when I was a lad of sixteen, I decided to hike the southernmost 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Which I then did. Upon returning, one my parent's friends informed me "You know, you can drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway along more or less the same route". To which I replied "Yes you can".

Great minds think alike.
About twelve (fifteen?) years ago I read a very thoughtful essay by the poet Donald Hall on exactly this subject. He regretfully noted that he was probably not going to get around to re-reading Homer's Iliad again. (I don't recall his mentioning which translation.) Having survived a bout with cancer, he conceded that he likely didn't have multiple decades left, so he had to prioritize his reading goals.
And Robert Fagles' translations of both the Iliad and Odyssey are wonderful; supple, human and readable, yet still carrying the weirdness of a bronze age world.

If--sorry--AS the work progresses, you might want to share your workflow with us. I don't remember thinking about or even using the word "workflow" back during my darkroom days; I assumed I did things pretty much the same way everyone else did. Now it's different. You've got thousands of negatives, so I seriously doubt you plan to print them all. How will you decide what to print? What size? How many of each image? What paper? Will you print them all the same way or will you adjust the print to the image?

These questions are all fresh in my mind because I've been thinking of resurrecting my darkroom too. Perhaps we can provide each other with moral support--although given the state of my morals, maybe "mutual encouragement" would be a better way to put it.

"... maybe even mock up a monograph."

If you published a monograph, I'd buy it.

I don't know if I'd like it, but I'd buy it... ;-)

Not a comment, just a question.

I tried to comment but got slapped down with a "Sorry we can't accept this data" response several times. My post was a bit longer than some of the others but not as long as others I have seen.

Realizing that you have a very tight bun with a pencil in it, I did revise, rework and check my punctuation carefully...but I doubt you could have responded that quickly.

Do you have any idea what the trouble might be?

Respectfully yours,

Charles William Laird :)

So you're saying we're welcome to come over and slosh around with a negative that we're proud of? BYO soup, of course. Thanks!

(Can I borrow a couple oz of fixer? I've lost mine in a move)

Joe Glaser,
The "Metamorphosis" translation I have is Arthur Golding's. Talk about superseded!


I used to peer into widow wells, but all I saw were dead husbands.

I understand the need to validate the past.

But it needs to be explained why a high-end scanner wouldn't do the trick. The room I'm sitting in is still called "the darkroom" even though it hasn't seen any chemical solutions for over 10 years.

"If you published a monograph, I'd buy it. I don't know if I'd like it, but I'd buy it... ;-)"

Thanks James.


"Do you have any idea what the trouble might be?"

Sorry you had trouble, It's a known bug in the TypePad interface, which they must think is a feature, based on the fact that it hasn't been fixed. It happens when the comment window is left open for too long. The solution is to copy the comment, close the window, open a new window, and paste in the comment. A bit of a pain, but at least it allows you to post.

It does the same thing to me, so don't feel singled out.


Plannerben writes:
> Stick with Lattimore's translations

1000% agree. As Lattimore himself once wrote (in praise of another writer): good of eye and ear and hand. Lattimore doesn't just give you the original Greek, he gives you the chisel marks in the stone into which the Greek was hewn.

You've had plenty of translation suggestions already, but I'll add my input anyway.

I'd second robert e's recommendation of Fitzgerald. I prefer his style to Fagles'. Both are better reads than Lattimore, although Plannerben is correct that they don't follow the Greek as strictly. If you want an even more idiomatic translation, check out Stanley Lombardo's, which goes for a style more appropriate for oral performance.

You can read my feelings about Lombardo at Amazon in the reviews to his "Iliad." Mine's under my own name. (Although many people didn't find my review "helpful.") His wasn't the translation for me.


Mike, after taking Latin for two years at university, I'd recommend Stanley Lombardo's translations of The Odyssey. Although I haven't read his translation of the Odyssey as of yet, I have read his translation of the Aeneid, and after reading the Aeneid in its original Latin (which was no enjoyable feat), I have to say that Lombardo retains all the classical senses of the epic tradition and Virgil's mastery in a more accessible and vernacular form.

"If you published a monograph, I'd buy it. I don't know if I'd like it, but I'd buy it... ;-)"

Assuming some non-stratospheric price, I would completely agree with that statement, both the buying, and the uncertainty about liking.

Dan K,
I'll bet I'd like Professor Lombardo better in the "Aeneid" than I did in the "Iliad"....


I lived in a small apartment in Manhattan for a while and just turned the whole place into a darkroom. I even had a TV set with the screen covered in rubylith. Of course a small apartment in Manhattan is about the size of a shoe closet in the real world.

I remember my brother's apartment on the Upper West Side--one room with a sink and tiny countertop in the corner, and the refrigerator in the bathroom! And considerably more expensive in the 90s than my house is today.

My house is in Waukesha City (rather than the McMansion outskirts). It was built in 1957, by a fellow named Orville Thiesenheusen, who I understand is still alive and in his late 90s. It's only 1000 square feet (very nice for an apartment in Manhattan, I realize, but small for a house here.) But the basement is relatively luxurious--it's as big as the house, 25x40, and made of poured concrete as opposed to concrete block. The downside is that in the Spring rains (which we didn't get this year) the floor gets wet. So everything kept down there has to be kept off the floor.


In 2003 I bought a film scanner to try digital photography. The cameras were too expensive. After some experimentation, I established that I could make better b&w prints with scanner, computer and ink jet printer than I could with a darkroom (~40 years in a darkroom). I continued shooting film for a number of years before I finally bought a digital camera, but never looked back. Last year I sold all the darkroom stuff - Beseler 23c, two Nikkor lenses, film holders, trays, Patterson print washer, ... for $150 delivered.

Just prior to reading this I had googled "radon gas levels" in my area thinking of my past, and future, basement darkrooms. Check your town's data, maybe all you'll need is an exhaust fan.

Let's hear it for Alexander Pope's Ode To Digital!!!!!

With best regards.


Dear Alan,

That's what I did when I bought this house in 1985. I had to get back to printing very quickly, so I threw up a temporary darkroom by putting up some two by fours in one corner of the garage, sticking a cheap door in a frame in one of the gaps, and stapling black garden plastic on both sides of the two by fours and the door frame all around. More black plastic over the two large windows in the two real walls. Took me only a couple of days to do the whole thing, but let me get printing until I found the time to put in a real, permanent darkroom.

It's 2010, last time I checked the calendar, and I never got around to replacing that temporary structure with a permanent darkroom. Mike has seen it. Perhaps he can imitate it. (For those who have a copy of my book POST EXPOSURE, there is a "panoramic" view of said darkroom in the book.)

(And, as an aside to several commenters: a film scanner is not a substitute for a darkroom. A darkroom is not a substitute for a film scanner.)

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"So everything kept down there has to be kept off the floor." Hey it's a darkroom. I'm always splashing stuff on the floor. It would be a proper night if I wasn't half soaked from devious squirting hoses.

I applaud your decision. Don't let anyone guilt you into working at their pace. Do what you want when it feels right.

Someone mentioned workflow. I hate the concept of workflow. This is supposed to be fun. Maybe we should call it playflow and leave it at that.


To me the obvious solution is to make contact sheets of your 10,000 negatives and then select the frames to scan and print digitally on, say, an Epson 3880 printer. These days photographers such as Jim Nachtwey and Moriyama Daido, both excellent darkroom printers, are printing digitally their B&W film work.

The only issue for me would be whether to make the contact sheet in a darkroom or digitally. I suspect that scanned contact sheets should be fine, although I confess don't have experience with this.

And, yes, Robert Fagles' translations both of the Odyssey and the Iliad are a joy to read — I'm not first looking into Chapman's Homer.



One can't help but feel that, had the great Mel Brooks lived on, 'Men in short, leather skirts without GPS' would have become the definitive celluloid version.

Move away from the keyboard and take some photographs.

Dear Mitch,

Some years before I gave up conventional printing in the darkroom, I started doing my proof sheets on a flatbed scanner. Made my printing go considerably faster and easier, as I could do the proof sheets in 'spare moments' without setting up the darkroom or requiring a substantial block of time.

Otherwise, though, your 'obvious' solution assumes that Mike WANTS to print digitally. Given everything he's written, why would you assume that?

pax / Ctein

"Odyssey" : Fitzgerald for me, (I'm a non academic).
Then Ralph Hexter's Guide makes sense.

"Iliad": Tried Lattimore, but preferred Lombardo, more readable.

Your brilliant featured post:

"Of darkrooms, dev and stop and fix, I'll sing!"

brought to mind Dryden's "Aeneid" as well.

Darkrooms: What else? However the ever useful and adaptable basement is not a common feature in Australasian domestic architecture.

Regards - Ross

But the Odyssey is right up there for keen rowers, along with "The Wind in the Willows" and "Three Men in a Boat" :


Dear Mike, I don't understand your reluctance vis-a-vis the great Alex.

Photographically speaking in these era of oversharpening, the concept of dullness (dulness) is so rich in terms of creativity and freedom.

Alex is the new-new photography grandfather, ins't it?


My picking of the morning in The Dunciade (type 234)

"My dulness will find somebody to do it

To future ages may thy dulness last,
As thou preserv'st the dulness of the past!

'See now, what Dulness and her sons admire!
See what the charms that smite the simple heart
Not touch'd by Nature, and not reach'd by art.' 230

Still her old empire to restore she tries,
For, born a goddess, Dulness never dies.

Then he: Great tamer of all human art!
First in my care, and ever at my heart;
Dulness! whose good old cause I yet defend,
With whom my Muse began, with whom shall end,
E'er since Sir Fopling's periwig[271] was praise,
To the last honours of the butt and bays:
O thou! of business the directing soul;
To this our head, like bias to the bowl, 170
Which, as more ponderous, made its aim more true,
Obliquely waddling to the mark in view;
Oh, ever gracious to perplexed mankind,
Still spread a healing mist before the mind;
And, lest we err by wit's wild dancing light,
Secure us kindly in our native night.
Or, if to wit a coxcomb make pretence,
Guard the sure barrier between that and sense;
Or quite unravel all the reasoning thread,
And hang some curious cobweb in its stead! 180
As, forced from wind-guns, lead itself can fly,
And ponderous slugs cut swiftly through the sky;
As clocks to weight their nimble motion owe,
The wheels above urged by the load below:
Me Emptiness and Dulness could inspire,
And were my elasticity and fire."

The question about translators really devolves to what's your goal? If it's to read an English version that comes closest to the Greek, then Lattimore's your guy, especially for the Iliad.

It clanks and marches along with a rhythm that's noticeably non-English — we like our iambic pentameter — but it does give you the story and metaphors along with a load of otherness from the warlord world it reflects. And after a while, you sort of slip into the author+translator's world.

However, if you simply want to read the poems, presumably for enjoyment, then I'd steer you straight to Fitzgerald, especially for the Odyssey.

.....Divine Kallypso,
mistress of the isle, was now at home.
Upon her hearthstone a great fire blazing
scented the farthest shores with cedar smoke
and smoke of thyme, and singing high and low
in her sweet voice, before her loom a-weaving,
she passed her golden shuttle to and fro.

(Odyssey, book 5, line 40 or so)

"One can't help but feel that, had the great Mel Brooks lived on"

The great Mel Brooks might take unbrage with your comment since he indeed lives on.

The sheet I bring into red light
lifts my heart, my soul excites!
I work, expectant in my room,
In the quiet of crimson gloom.
The quiet tasks of dodging, burning,
the craftsman’s skills of years of learning
satisfies my maker’s mind
each detail of the image mined.
The sheet I load in light of day
just brings the sighs of ennui.
I work, reluctant in my room
tiring of percent of zoom.
The click and point of dodging, burning;
here there is no craftsman’s learning.
Manipulation it is truly not,
no satisfaction here is got.

Get a 2nd hand minilab style 35mm scanner. Check out Dante Stella's site which has the same issues. (http://www.dantestella.com/technical/f235plus.html) For the purpose that is a better option.

BTW, do not get me started about Greek studies. I still never pardoned them to label a largely red vase as black and black vase as red.

Having come to the age of knowing there is not enough time left I have been pondering what I have named for myself the "folly of photography". While producing photos gives me pleasure I find it important to ask myself: "Who cares?". For me, photography is not to different than fishing. If I catch a nice one its OK with me if no one cares past the dinner plate. But,if I was to mount a fish and hang it on the wall I would stick my family with the future guilt producing problem of what to do with Grampa's Fish. Just throwing it away is a bit like throwing away part of Grampa..."OK, who wants to do the dirty work?".

My photography, on the other hand, has potential. My family and others care little about artistic merit. (Not that my photos have much.) The things that last, it seems to me, have historical value not technical merit. They are things that trigger memories and historical questions from the young. The danger as I see it is to bury the truly valuable shots, the ones people want, in a haystack of good ones. "OK, who wants to dig through Grampa's Haystack?"

My own direction is too cull ruthlessly all fresh images to save myself trouble, later, produce some hard copy for easy distribution and save little more on digital media which I am confident will be unreadable after ten years of progress. The rest of the decent fish I think I will dispose of myself, before they start to smell.

"Move away from the keyboard and take some photographs."

The problem I'm describing here is that I've already taken too many photographs. Now I'd like to do something with them.


What a funny schizo collection of responses - half darkroom and half poetry translation! I will the chorus of those who have fully enjoyed the process of returning their vast collection of 35mm negs and slides and have successfully turned them into high quality prints via film scanner and inkjet printer. Because I'm a cheapskate, the road to success was slow, but once I discovered the recent fibre-based papers (like air-dried glossy prints) and professionally-made paper profiles for my printer/paper combinations, I have enjoyed making better black and white prints than I ever did in a darkroom, and I have always been considered by me and by others as an excellent printer. Prints made on these papers, like the Epson Traditional or Harman FB, can only be distinguished from silver prints by those of us who know what to look for. I've had curators and gallery owners not see the difference. And opening a box of some of the papers even SMELLS just like opening a box of silver paper in the darkroom. Once you see a print made on one of these papers, you might just reconsider your choice.

I loved my darkrooms, the intense time, solitude, and focus of it. No longer. I don't miss the darkroom challenge now that I can have the advantages of the darkroom with digital, without the disadvantages.

Now, why not just scan in your negatives and process them digitally? No chemicals to inhale,go stale, and you can start and stop and start, again, at will. And when possible, you can even batch process similar ones, tweak them as required, and move on.

OK, in deference to Ctein and others who point out that scanning is not the same as digital, I find that the attempt at perfection, as the somewhat paraphrased saying goes, gets in the way of doing what I want to do.

Dear Mike;
May I suggest working in the your darkroom early in the morning before your daily chores, telephone calls and E-mails begin to distract you. I know it´s a bit severe but I wake up at 4:00 am Monday to Friday for the last six months printing in my makeshift darkroom until 6:00 am. Keeps procrastination and other mundane distractions at bay.

You might consider putting in a pair* of carbon monoxide detectors. Older homes were built to be a bit air-leaky, and your changes might make it a little too tight in the basement. It would be a shame to lose you to a furnace or hot water heater's backdrafting.

*different models, in case one is a dud. Life insurance that's cheap at twice the price.

If you are not a professional, the darkroom is much more than a place to making prints. It's for relaxing and temporally escaping from this troubled and distressing world. I've just finished my 6th darkroom in 30 years. This time it's a full house containing the darkroom, negative and print archives, print mounting and framing room and a small gallery.
As for dust, I've installed an oil less compressor and did the plumbing myself, for all rooms. It's easy to do and it frees you from that dust spotting nightmare.

Bauru- BR

Mike, I'd like to suggest that this thread and the comments have been particularly delightful.

With your quixotic opening, you summed up the melancholic realization of midlife: that we will never get to achieve some things we presumed we would, and we must force ourselves to limit our pursuits to those few things which hold most meaning for us, if we are to achieve them at all. How to spend the remaining decades of our lives becomes an urgent enquiry.

It's fascinating to me to see the parallels with someone my own age.

Roger Bradbury: Your poem is most suitable and appreciated.

For the Iliad I recommend warmly Samuel Butler's (free!) translation.
I think it is the best.
For the Odysssey he is good but not as wonderful as for the Iliad.
I didn't find any English translation I like for the Odyssey yet :-( , But if you like I can recommend a beautiful Hebrew translation for both :-)

I had some time last summer / fall and read half of Don Quixote ... and promised myself to read the rest soon. This is my first reading, with the celebrated recent translation by Edith Grossman. Highly recommended.

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