If you had told me three years ago that I would be running a photographic darkroom, I simply wouldn’t have believed you. As so often is the way in life, a small, simple idea can completely change your path.
As I sat in bed one night with my cat, Boozie, I had the sudden yearning to get back in a darkroom. This might sound like a strange thing to be thinking about in the early morning hours on a weeknight, especially when you consider the last time I set foot in a darkroom was back in 2003 as a fresh-faced photography student. So instead of going to sleep, I opened my laptop and searched for community darkrooms. After a quick search, I decided I wanted to build my own darkroom as nothing I found suited me. I was scrolling through potential spaces I could rent, and that’s when I chanced upon an advertisement for the Young Husband Wool Stores in Kensington.
The photos looked too good to be true. I sent an enquiry and two days later I was walking around the most beautiful, old, industrial building I have ever seen in Melbourne. It’s hard to describe the connection I felt with the space—for some reason it reminded my of my grandfather, who always loved old, interesting treasures. The space was amazing, but the rent was much more than I could afford for a personal darkroom. That was when I had the thought that perhaps there were others out there who shared in my hunt for a modern day darkroom. It truly was a reverse business idea.
I took on the space, and with the help of my girlfriend Rhi and my mate Richie got put to work building walls, sanding, scraping, painting, and shaping this little idea into a beautiful studio and darkroom which did justice to the building we were in. While this was all happening, I was reading through old darkroom handbooks and came across a chapter on Henry Fox Talbot (hence The Fox Darkroom). Everybody I spoke to about Fox wanted to help out in some way. My incredible furniture-making friends Danny and Kirst from Coeval fitted me out with darkroom benches, and even the darkroom sink was donated by a photographic college (Thanks to Mick Sirianni from PIC). One of the best parts of this was living the “American Pickers” dream of rummaging through old schools and community darkrooms to rescue lovely old darkroom equipment that had been long forgotten and bring it back to life. I also discovered an entire subculture of film photographers and darkroom enthusiasts, not just in Melbourne but all around the world.
In the past two years, things have grown very quickly. We now have over 60 people who have joined as members at The Fox Darkroom, and we have more signing up every month. We also run regular workshops teaching people from all walks of life how to take photos, develop film, and print in the darkroom. We have such a great community here. I always feel happy to think that without Fox, these people probably wouldn’t have crossed paths and become friends.
Last year we even ran our first international photography workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There, I got to combine my other passions of travel and using photography to tell a story. We even got to support a whole team of Cambodian friends through our tour. We have more planned for this year.
So now I find myself with a new opportunity that I am getting ready to take on. A second space has become available next door to my studio. It is a huge step for us. The space is 177 square meters and is going to be a big commitment both financially and in terms of effort. My plan is to convert the front into a warm little gallery space and the back into a number of artist studios, which will help cover costs and add to the creative hub of Fox.
It makes perfect sense for the gallery to have a strong focus on photography and traditional methods. As my previous work has been both photojournalistic and documentary in nature, I would love for the gallery to showcase work with an important message. A number of the members at Fox (myself included) are producing work that will be perfect for an exhibition. The long journey of gathering support within the industry has already begun.
Next month we will be launching an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund this new venture. Without financial help, it just isn’t possible. So I turn to my network for support once again. In May when you see our posts rolls across your feed, please support us and tell your friends about what we are doing.
I couldn’t possibly imagine where this is all going. I only know that following my heart to this point in my life has only proved to be positive. So here’s to the negatives and The Fox Darkroom & Gallery!