As ubiquitous as photography has become in an era of smartphones, the simpler the process has become to take photographs, the less we seem to be printing. Photos lurk on hard drives, laptops and phones, while we pray that they won’t be lost to malfunction or technological obsolescence. As photographer and blogger Missy Mwac put it, “50 years from now, the most photographed generation in history will have no photos.”
Instead of printing what we want to keep, it turns out that the only time most will stump up for a print nowadays is for the big occasions—the weddings, baby’s first year, graduations. As for the rest of our snaps, they can wait in limbo.
Finding a printing shop may not be a case of heading to your local high street anymore, with online printers proving to be a worthy replacement. And as for developing photographs yourself? Outside of a minor group of hobbyists, it’s mostly unheard of.
You might know which tools in Photoshop will allow you to dodge and burn your image, but without a basic knowledge of how a darkroom works you’re unlikely to know why they’re represented by a pin and a curled hand.
For those keen to try their hand at turning their image files into bona fide prints, the Enfojer could be just the thing, enabling you to print your smartphone shots in just six minutes.
To use the system, you load an image on the Enfojer smartphone app (you can edit it with the app too). Next, you convert the room into a darkroom by turning off the room lights and switching on the kit’s portable, battery-powered red safelight, then place your phone face-down in the enlarger’s cradle.
Click your fingers to turn the screen off, insert photo paper into the enlarger and click your fingers again to turn the screen on and begin exposure.
When the paper has been exposed, it goes through a series of baths—first, a developer bath to reveal the image, then a stop bath and a fixer, and finally water.
Take a look at how it’s done in the video below.
You may have heard of the Enfojer before, it caused quite a stir when its creators launched it on Indiegogo back in September 2013, but due to a catalogue of annoying but well-communicated delays, backers are just now beginning to get their kits and the company is opening up for new preorders. Those receiving their long-awaited Enfojers may get a laugh to see that due to a grammar error, the message printed on the box reads: ‘BETTER LATE THEN NEVER’—though I’m sure they did think for a while it would never come.
In the time since, smartphone screens have gotten bigger, and although the Enfojer works best for screens up to 5”, the company has tested it with iPhone 6 Plus and its equivalents and it works fine. The largest print size recommended when using smartphone images is 20x20cm. Using your smartphone as a white-screen lightbulb, you can also expose traditional developed film (anything up to medium format).
The folks behind Enfojer say they want this product to be useful to darkroom noobs and buffs alike, with a tutorial blog and a detailed user manual for complete beginners, and the functionality for experts to get going right when they open the box. Their website reads: “That’s what the Enfojer is all about–bringing a previously complex (and sometimes expensive) process back into the 21st century by making it as affordable, simple, fun and educational as possible.”
The full kit—including the Enfojer enlarger, a safelight, trays, tongs and paper and developer and fixer fluid for 25 shots, essentially everything you need to get started bar the water—will set you back US$320, including a 5-year warranty and worldwide shipping. Alternately, if you already have some of the pieces you need or want to improvise, all elements can be bought separately.
In all honesty, if this isn’t your first time at the darkroom rodeo, you’ll probably balk at that price and source each individual component separately (leaving you with paper and chemicals to spare), though the support community and a readymade kit would be perfect for a newcomer to darkroom printing to cut their teeth on.
- Further reading
- When Was the Last Time You Printed a Photograph?