A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published September 22nd 2014
Take a photographic journey back in time
In a digital age, where we're married to our computers and - technology willing - everything happens in an instant, it is pleasing to learn of a business that has headed in the opposite direction.
Image credit: The Fox Darkroom website
Located in a wonderful studio space in what was once a huge wool store in the back blocks of Kensington, The Fox Darkroom offers a trip back in time, to an era of film cameras, dark rooms and analog photo processing. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with business owner Tom Goldner, to check out what he is offering. Tom is a professional photographer, who specialises in event photography and portraiture. At The Fox Darkroom, Tom is offering black and white film photography workshops, and darkroom hire.
Regular readers of my articles will know that I have a bit of an interest in photography. I certainly grew up in the pre-digital photography era, though in those days, I used basic point-and-shoot cameras. So taking on a course where I was using a fully manual film camera was a bit of a shock! But at the same time, experiencing the full 'end-to-end' process of shooting a film camera, and developing the photos from same, was somehow much more satisfying than the relatively simple process of digital shooting and processing.
There are currently two boutique workshops on offer at The Fox Darkroom, with a maximum of five students:
For this course, you are provided with an SLR film camera - a Pentax K1000 - fitted with a fixed 50mm lens. Tom starts by giving an overview of how to use the camera's controls. Remember EVERYTHING is manual - settings, focus, winding on the film - so even if you're used to using a digital SLR camera, as I am, you still have to keep your wits about you!
Tom then runs through some of the basics of photography composition before taking the students out on a photography walk of the nearby streets and alley ways. As the studio is located in what was a former industrial area, there is no shortage of things to shoot nearby.
Working in the dark is a great sensory experience
Having shot the necessary number of photos, the group returns to the studio. And then the real fun begins - because you need to go into the darkroom - in complete darkness - and firstly unroll your roll of film, and then feed it onto a spool, and manoeuvre it into a canister. It's a fantastic sensory experience.
Tom prepares the chemicals for developing our film
That done, you're ready to start developing your film. It's a complex process, involving various washes (all managed very effectively by Tom), but eventually, you get a roll of developed film (cut into strips and placed in pouches), which is your souvenir to take home.
Tom and I start the process of developing our film
In this course, you will get to print the photos you shot and developed in the first course (or you can bring your own to print). You'll be back in the darkroom, though this time with the red glow of the safe lights. You'll experience the magic of your image first starting to appear as you swish the photographic paper in the first of the 'baths'.
The magical moment when the print starts to appear. (This is Tom's print, not mine!)
By the end of this course, you will have a framed print to take home.
This course runs for 3 hours and the cost is $245.
Note that while you can do both courses 'back to back' on one day, I wouldn't recommend it. There is a lot of information to take in in a relatively short time, and that can be quite tiring! So I'd suggested attending the courses on different days if possible.
Public darkroom facilities are also available for hire. The hire rate of $20 per hour ($15 for members) includes equipment and chemicals. Film and paper is available for purchase. For the darkroom opening hours, click here. Bookings essential.
So what did I particularly like about the courses?
First, as I mentioned, experiencing the end-to-end process, from photo to print, was very satisfying.
Second, Tom is a delightful, well-informed and very patient teacher. He clearly has a passion for film photography and his enthusiasm is contagious.
Third, the darkroom door is awesome! (I won't spoil the surprise!)
Was there anything I didn't like about it?
No. It was well run and structured, and a lot of fun, and I greatly enjoyed it.
Who would The Fox Darkroom's courses suit?
They would suit anyone who has an interest in photography, anyone who has a creative side, and anyone who likes to try something new.
If you've used film cameras, but perhaps it was a while ago, then you'll love getting back to the hands-on experience of film photography and processing.
If you've never tried film photography - perhaps you or someone you know who has grown up in the digital age - then this is a great course too. It takes the participant back to another era. You will look at film photographs with new eyes!
Children from 12 years of age are welcome (those aged 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult).
It would also make an unusual team building event, although the maximum class size of five may be limiting.
All round, this was a great experience and I highly recommend it.