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.
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.
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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