In his series "The Last One Out, Please Turn On the Light," photographer Richard Nicholson nostalgically documents the last existing darkrooms in London. While he doesn't despise digital, he can't let go of film photography either. Keeping analogue alive is a goal we share then! Read more about the project here.
“I love darkrooms. My father built one when I was a child and introduced me to photography. I’ve always enjoyed printing my own work,” London-based Nicholson said. “In 2006, the hire darkroom I was using became very quiet. Canon had just released the 5D camera and photographers were rushing to switch from film to digital. London labs were closing in quick succession.”
Back then, there were 204 photo printing labs in operation. By 2009, only six were left. “The writing was on the wall for film, but I didn’t want to let it go. I started looking at the darkroom in a new light,” he told Raw File. “I was most interested in the enlargers — hulking specimens of modernist industrial design. It struck me they had a human scale and form: a neck, head, two armatures. I felt sorry for them.”
“Everything is now unavailable,” laments Nicholson in this video interview, but says he has no problem with digital and finds the instant feedback “hugely liberating.” However, he still chose to photograph the series using a large format camera which produced 4 × 5 prints as the rooms were shot in complete darkness.
“I would switch off the lights, open the camera’s shutter, and then walk around the darkroom illuminating the scene with multiple bursts from a handheld flashgun. Darkrooms are cramped spaces and I had to be careful not to kick the tripod.”
“Many will miss the darkness, silence and privacy of the darkroom: It could be a meditative space. But I’ve always used hire darkrooms and miss the energy of a group of ambitious young photographers trying to outdo each other. There’s a drama to making a print in the darkroom,” added Nicholson.
It’s unfortunate that this art form is on its way to disappearing, but it is individuals like Nicholson who are truly invested in and dedicated to film photography which keeps Lomography fueled. Watch out for new developments (pun intended) from Lomography in the near analogue future! ;-)
Into the Darkroom is a mini series about photo processing, developing, labs, and, well, darkrooms! Got tips or stories in mind? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.