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Is Traditional Photography Dead?

Is Traditional Photography Dead?

Introducing Darkroom Kitchen

For well over 200 years, humankind has been fascinated by the ability to capture and immortalise a scene – to freeze it in time for generations to come. The genius of early pioneers like Daguerre and Fox-Talbot paved the way to enable us to literally write with light – to photograph!

Darkroom Kitchen celebrates and teaches the nearly lost art of traditional photography – the recording of light onto classic Silver Halide. It is a unique place where people can learn more about how photography was done before the click and drag culture of the digital world. Here – people can generate their own photographs without computers using a technology that goes back as far as the 19th century – and one that is starting to enjoy a powerful renaissance.

Dark Room Kitchen Setup

Indeed, film is provoking much interest but there has been a knowledge gap. Worryingly, we are in a curious social pivot that is encouraging photographers to photograph with traditional materials and yet many still don’t know what to do with it. Recently, Darkroom Kitchen gave a bespoke course to an exceptional wildlife photographer who had never used film. There is a blind leap of faith a photographer has to make – both in the halide salt of the film and in their own abilities.

It is called Darkroom Kitchen because we try to promote the traditional processing of photographic materials in everyday, common environments. Often – folk can be put off by the common misconception that, to do this, a dedicated space has to be reserved – a typical darkroom yet Darkroom Kitchen is, as the name suggests, a darkroom…and our very own Kitchen as well! People are genuinely amazed when we demonstrate how it can easily turn into a processing space that, only fifteen minutes ago was used to bake bread!

Where did the idea for Dark Room Kitchen come from?

I’ve had a unique photography education and I come from the old school practice of photography in that I was taught how to photograph on film. It’s something that has always stuck with me. Logistical problems forced me to close my old darkroom but when it was time to get our kitchen refitted, it was both my wife, Claire, and I who came up with the bold idea that it could be turned into a dual-purpose space. So – I guess you can call it a joint effort!

Who is it aimed at? What level of photography experience is required? What equipment do people need to attend?

Darkroom Kitchen is aimed at everyone who is interested in traditional photography! Or they might just be curious! Or both! And you don’t need any photography experience either…I work with absolute beginners to professionals. You don’t have to bring any equipment along either as you can borrow ours if you want…we’re one of the few public darkrooms that allows this – but if you do want to bring your own kit, that’s great. We do demonstrations and 1-2-1 tailored tuition.

Camera and Coffee

Aren’t Darkrooms and film cameras a thing of the past? What do you get from photographing this way that you don’t from digital cameras?

Well, no…darkrooms and film cameras aren’t really a thing of the past, despite the fact that the digital camera revolution has opened up another world of photography that was previously consigned to science fiction! Indeed, darkrooms and traditional cameras are undergoing a massive renaissance and artistic photographers are finding great advantage in the alternate workflow that is adopted with this.

This type of photography is classically done without computers – it really is the most wonderful demonstration of silver chemistry and mother nature going hand-in-hand! All you need is light and the means to capture that onto sensitive material. It is elegantly and beautifully straightforward. Film, too, can provide great detail in a capture often equalling the exposure range of a digital camera and, when handled correctly, sometimes exceeding it. It is also a popular choice when photographing with medium format or large format cameras where the digital options in these fields can be prohibitively expensive.

In my opinion, traditional photography still has a very strong place. Directly, it can force you to think about “your” photograph and how “you” want to capture your scene of choice. It enables you to have control. Often, I’m confronted by people who feel that their digital camera is some sort of autonomous robot that seemingly decides when and how IT should capture when the truth of it is that digital cameras share many operating principles that are found in earlier film cameras…exposure, aperture, focusing, composition but to name a few.

One of the classic pro-film arguments is its longevity (under the correct storage conditions!) – negatives aren’t affected by crashed harddiscs or corrupted memory sticks. They don’t become encrypted and fouled by ransomware. They are not at the mercy of the delete key! Treated with respect and handled carefully, they can last an amazingly long time. Darkroom Kitchen was approached by a gentleman who provided several envelopes of 6×9 negatives, enquiring if they could be traditionally printed. The answer was yes…and suddenly images from a holiday 60+ years ago were resurrected faithfully as though they were shot the day before!

Is this akin to the resurgence of people buying vinyl records or is there more to it than that?

Now, that’s a good question. Why do people buy vinyl records? Well – it’s probably got something to do with the fact of the technology differences that are employed in creating vinyl as opposed to CDs and other digital material. Whereas CDs generate their sound through a form of sampled interpolation, the vinyl reproduction is a direct, like-for-like representation of what the sound was like at the time. Film has an analogy with this.

I think people are becoming more interested in the choice that is presented in alternate and older technologies. Like vinyl, film photography technology doesn’t rely on any middle-processing to generate the image. It is generated by the light from the actual source – be it a subject or an enlarger lamp when you’re making a print and it’s interesting to consider that it’s something that hasn’t significantly altered in over 180 years.

If you would like to find out more about Dark Room Kitchen or get in touch with Jonathan you can do so via his website.

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Comments (6)

  1. I love photography, i’m studying part time in the hope that I can make it a profession one day but everything I have used and learnt has been digital. One thing that i’m unsure about is post production editing. With digital you can use something like Photoshop to edit the photo or make tweaks, I would imagine this would be much harder using a darkroom?

    Great article by the way.

    1. Hi Ryan, thanks for reading the article and glad you enjoyed it!

      Thanks for the question! Post production editing for film-based photography tends to occur when the negative is being printed, though certain controls do exist when the negative is being developed. In the traditional sense, the printer can utilise many techniques to get the final result. For me, it isn’t harder as such – it’s just a different approach. It may be of interest to know that a lot of folk at Darkroom Kitchen found this particular aspect quite scary and intimidating at first until they found that the methods are not that complicated.

      Many thanks again!


  2. Good read, I am very interested in traditional photography but I was wondering how it compares in cost to using a digital camera?

    1. Hi Pawel! Thanks for your comments!

      Cost comparisons between film and digital photography can be a tricky question to answer and, dare I say it, has led to some pretty heated debate in the past!

      It is fair to say, unfortunately with the economic climate at the moment, silver-based photographic material can appear to be quite expensive. However, traditional equipment is not as sensitive to the technological horizon that affects all digital cameras. Hence it is quite possible to capture very pleasing, very stunning results with equipment that is considerably cheaper than some digital counterparts.

      Cost is a very important consideration but also considering what you want to achieve as your final output is, for me, as important.

      Very many thanks again


  3. Love your passion but mixing chemistry and food preparation is always a no-no. I know how hard it is to have a dedicated darkroom space, but this is not how to solve it. The first rule of any darkroom is no food. You can never be sure your kitchen will be free of contaminates. If you want to preserve the art, you also have to preserve the hard won lessons of doing it the right way.

    1. Jonathan Bradley

      Hi Rich

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      In response, Darkroom Kitchen is a perfectly safe place to teach and demonstrate. Our work surfaces are chemically impregnable, one of the integral things that was specified when designing the area. Furthermore, we acquired laboratory-grade consultancy before committing our design. You are more than welcome to visit and we can demonstrate how we even cross check our surfaces before transitioning from “kitchen” to “darkroom” mode. It goes without saying that we are extremely mindful of contaminant risk and this is something that we also demonstrate successfully both from an important food-safety aspect and final photographic output aspect.

      Kitchen processing has actually been around for many, many years and Darkroom Kitchen is about championing accessibility of Darkroom practice. Many people do not have access to purpose built facilities but Darkroom Kitchen can inspire folk, with a little imagination, forethought and safety mindfulness into turning the passion that you talk of into a reality, rather than a dream.

      Please feel to get in touch with me if you would like to see how Darkroom Kitchen operates.

      Thanks again


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