My name is Jason Avery and I am an analogue landscape photographer based in East Anglia England. I have been working with film for a few years now, learning my craft as an artist. One of the many reasons why I decided to choose film instead of digital as a medium for my work was the darkroom experience. I have heard the quote “The darkroom is a magical place” over and over again and I can safely say that that is totally true. I have been hooked since the moment I developed my first print in my tiny darkroom space.
WHY MOVE TO A BIGGER SPACE
Like most film photographers, I really wanted my own darkroom space to practice, learn and grow. So a few years ago I decided to convert a small downstairs toilet in our house into a darkroom. It was perfect in that it had no windows to worry about, ventilation vent was already fitted, electrics close by and an endless supply of running water. The only real issue was the size. It measured 4.5ft by 8ft. There was no room to swing a cat. I tried but unfortunately with me and all my darkroom stuff in the space our family cat Mister Pickle-Pants (yes that is his name, yes the kinds name him, no he is not happy about it either) couldn't get a paw in. It was bit of a squeeze and every inch was precious.
Once set up
Once set up, and I had a system going, it actually worked okay. It was restrictive in terms of the size of printing that was possible. I couldn't have separate wet and dry areas, but I was creative with the space. I had all my trays lined up vertically and okay at one point in the process things got a bit hairy when I had to take the print and slide it from the fix to the wash without bending it while on my knees but I managed and I was blown away by the results. After using my small but perfectly functional darkroom, I knew that I wanted a bigger space. If I could get one within my budget and not too far from home. Last year a local studio became available, a five minute walk from my house and on budget… just. It was perfect for me to grow my darkroom space and my skills in the darkroom. I decided to jump into the deep end and go for it.
The extra space
The space measured 180 sq ft, which compared to my previous space 36 sq ft felt huge. With this much room Mister Pickle-Pants and I could have danced a jig if we had wanted to! (Obviously we couldn't, could you imagine all the cat hair getting everywhere and how that would ruin my prints!) The extra space would allow me to be more creative in terms of print sizes, workflow, and advancing my print techniques.
A bit of a secret
I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret, I am a neat freak; I like everything to be orderly and in its place, I like to be able to find things and I like things to look right. (This is one of the reasons that I NEVER go into my other half's study, she is the complete opposite of neat and tidy and her study is the thing of nightmares). Being super neat and organised in my small space was a must - there wasn’t room for mess or clutter, but I wanted to make sure that with the bigger space I didn’t fill it with too many enlargers. One thing I was keen to create in my studio darkroom, was a welcoming environment for my clients to visit. Yes, it is a working space but I also wanted it to be inviting. It was extremely important that I got this correct with the all important budget I had.
As you can imagine, I was like a kid with a new toy, having so much space, compared to the toilet at home. But it soon came apparent to me that, even having this much space, I needed to maximise every square foot. So staying true to my organised nature I measured walls, and drew up plans and layouts, to get a better understanding of what I could achieve. My priorities were:
- Accessibility to my enlargers
- A space for the developing trays
- Wall space for hanging my prints to dry
- A clean and tidy workflow
- Display space for my clients to view work
You can plan as much as you like on paper, it does not mean it's going to work in real life. Over the last few months, I have moved and adjusted the space to suit my needs better. I am sure this will be an ongoing saga as I grow and buy more kit! Then I’ll probably need a bigger space! One for two cats!
When I moved into my new space I knew that I wanted it to be a darkroom first and foremost, a place that worked for me and a place that I could work in. Being able to invite clients to the space was a secondary requirement, a nice bonus feature if you will. I think it’s important when setting up any new work space that you look at what you need from the space, why you are moving to it and what you hope to achieve in it?
A space for me
I thought long and hard about this and realised that what I needed from the space. It was somewhere that I could try new techniques, where I could print larger images, and I could move about more freely. I also wanted all my things on one place. This would make developing so much easier and safer too as I wouldn’t have to carry chems about the house. It also needed to be a space for me, that I felt comfortable in and that I wanted to work in. My primary goal with the studio is to develop and enhance my understanding of the darkroom and to be more creative and grow as a photographer.
There is an idiom that says “Nature abhors a vacuum” and I am sure that in time I will fill the space and outgrow it. But for now I am content in my studio.
I hope that the biggest thing that fills the space will be my skills and creativity as I learn and grow. I sincerely feel that having this dedicated space that is primed and ready for me to work in will help me to do just that. There is something I found powerfully motivating about investing in photography, by putting in the time, energy, and resources to get out with my camera or get into the dark room I am sending myself a clear message, I am telling myself, and all those around me, that this is important. And that gives me the drive to push myself, to make myself a better photographer.
Why build a darkroom in 2021/2022?
I am a film photographer, there is no denying it. I sometimes think I should shoot digital, it is expected, it is the world we live in. The digital age and every time I try to shoot digital I lose a little bit of the joy and a big chunk of what I love about my photography, the film, the developing the darkroom. It is a truly magical space that can't be replicated sitting in front of a monitor, moving sliders around a software program. Being a film photographer is an immersive process, from loading that film into the enlarger carrier, seeing the image being projected onto the easel, working with the light to get that image onto a light sensitive paper.
The Real Magic
Then the real magic starts to happen, once you put your paper into the developing tray. Moving the tray backwards and forwards, agitating the chemicals to cover the paper, watching your timer and then seeing an image appear through the light sensitive paper. I don't ever see me getting bored of that moment. As many people say it's magical and it truly is. Once you have finished going through your developer, stop, bath, fixer and wash, you then get a better understanding, the whole vision in your head has come to life. But it does not end there. There are endless possibilities that can happen afterwards. Toning, bleaching, lith printing. etc.
Film gives me so many possibilities and opportunities to be creative as an artist. I honestly feel that digital can't complete with the connection and experience that you get from shooting film.
About The Author
Being based in East Anglia, it is easy to understand how the glorious landscape can inspire me. I am known for capturing the wide-open skies and diversity in the world around me.
Each of my images is evocative and creates mood through tones and contrast. Working with film in a digital world gives me a sense of pleasure and the craftsmanship that is required to produce the images challenges me and enhances my craft.
Being Analogue Photographer is a timeless process. I will always be learning, expanding and pushing the boundaries of my chosen art form.
I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/_JasonAvery