Dapper Dan The Darkroom Van

Introducing Dapper Dan 

It’s well known that I love film photography, in particular large format 5x4. I also love Scotland in particular the Isle of Skye and the third element I love is the darkroom.  What I don’t like is going on a trip shooting sheet film and not being able to process it.  


The concept of a darkroom van has been in my head for some time now and what made my mind up to do something about it was when I teach large format landscape photography, in particular to photographers that are new to this wonderful format I kept getting the same comments, “wouldn’t it be great if we could see the results now”. So Dapper Dan the Darkroom Van was born.


It’s quite a task when you first start thinking about how to make this work so, first things first buying a van big enough to stand up in and teach the art of darkroom. After much consideration I settled for a Nissan Interstar which I am reliably informed is the same as a Renault.  I chose this van not only for the size but the condition for it’s age was really good being a 2005 van. 


On with the conversion, the first thing I did was strip all the boarding out and took it back to bare metal and made good any rust spots. Secondly I bought some sheets of sound proofing which I had learned about from watching numerous van conversions on YouTube, the sheets were really easy to apply you simply cut to size and stick on. After that task was completed I put a thick layer of insulation on and then sealed it with a layer of moisture barrier, which looks a bit like silver tin foil with small squares embedded into it. Doing the roof was the hardest part and I needed help with this but when it was all finished it looked great and what a difference the sound proofing made. 


At this point I should have thought about the electrics but this being the first time I had done anything like this I didn’t and I had already replaced the boarding. This was a big mistake as I learned to my cost later down the line.

So now I had to sort out the electrics which I have to say frightend me, I am in no way an electrician but I needed the system to be safe and legal so I got in an expert who services caravans and motorhomes and along with his help we designed a 12 volt system for when I am on location and sleeping in it and a 230 volt mains system for when I’m working in it so that I can use an enlarger, timer and so on. It took about three full days to complete due to the fact I had re boarded it!


By this time in the learning process of designing and converting a panel van in to a fully fledged darkroom I was becoming very frustrated and I had the feeling I was getting nowhere. Anyway once the electrics were completed now was the time to get into the meat and bones of the project.. building the inside.  I had a design in my head which incorporated a double bed, being a nats hair short of 60, I wanted sorry needed somewhere comfy to sleep.

A trip to Scotland to see my friend and partner in delivering the workshops Simon, was needed. Simon had the wherewithal and the knowhow to do the build so in a week of madness we got to work on it. Well to be truthful it was Simon doing the work and me handing him the tools and making the tea and on occasions the odd glass of prosecco. 

We first built the bed then the cupboards and a place for the enlarger and incorporated plenty of storage for chemistry and paper as well as for personal belongings and food. This took three solid days and nights of hard work and just left me with the cupboard doors and the back doors to finish off on my return back home. So having finished the bulk of the build me and Simon spent the rest of the week enjoying and exploring Skye feeding our souls shooting with my beautiful Intrepid 5x4 camera. 


On my return home I set to work putting the final touches to the build.  The next phase was to get the walls and roof carpeted. Initially I was going to paint the walls and the roof but I wanted it to look warm and inviting with a professional touch so again I brought in an expert carpet fitter and they did an amazing job, I’m glad I went with it and didn’t paint it. So with the carpet fitted Dapper Dan was finally taking shape and looking the part. 


I had discussed with my wife Pat what to do with the outside, it had to look the part too, in fact this is what the public would see first so it was very important to get it right. I had heard about wraps but knew very little about them so after a lot of research we realised this was by far the best way to go and after looking around at various companies we settled on Wrap Monkeys in Sunderland and it's only about 1 hour 15 minutes drive away.. Bonus! We had settled on Dapper Dan for the name due to the fact that we both love the Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou?, the lead character Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) was always in need of his hair pomade which was called Dapper Dan and the fact that it rhymed with darkroom van fitted perfectly.


So we took this idea to Wrap Monkeys and asked them to design the wrap and graphics. The results are here for everyone to see. We love it absolutely love it. Worth every single penny.

Now on to doing what it was made for.. assisting me and Simon in delivering large format landscape photography workshops on the Isle of Skye, Northumberland and Gods own county Yorkshire. We'll be traveling the length and breadth of the country and Europe.


If you would like to follow the adventures of Dapper Dan the Darkroom Van and myself and Simon stay tuned for the adventures of Dapper Dan. 

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