“Innovation is born when art meets science,” according to pioneer of the arts and technology, John Maeda. As the modern day prophet sat upstairs at the Riflemaker Gallery in a sandpit, on a wooden throne-like chair with an iPad resting in his lap, I listened to Maeda’s inspiring insight and watched as he fluidly drew words and numbers in the sand. Enlightening and relatable, the ten minute “confessional” with Maeda provided an important outlook on the future, and led me to think about a passion of mine, darkroom photography, and how it may or may not fit into the big picture.
His advice on the sometimes ‘black and white’ nature of life, as well as his emphasis on creativity’s influential power in the future, is why story of London, of the art world especially, is a photo essay without photos.
On my way out of the Riflemaker Gallery, I considered the exciting prospects of a more creative future. Before leaving, the gallery owner briefed me on an upcoming exhibition entitled “Analog”. In attempt to expose the dire fate of darkroom photography, photographer Richard Nicholson presents images of photographic darkrooms found in and around London, starting in 2006. 214 darkrooms were in existence when he began shooting, and now, three years pass, and only six remain.
In 2006 the darkrooms formed the engine of the British photographic industry. Major players like Joe’s Basement, Primary, Metro Soho, Keishi Colour, Ceta, Team Photographic and Sky have all closed. Polaroid has stopped making instant film and Kodak and Fuji are discontinuing one format after another. Hardware companies have ceased production of print enlargers and scanners, the recently introduced Canon 5D camera have persuaded many diehard film photographers that digital is the future. Those who remain unconvinced are facing clients who, in any event, no longer have the budgets for film, Polaroid, clip-tests, contact sheets and prints. All of these recent developments show the significant effect advancing technology has had on darkroom photography.
As Riflemaker director summed up the idea behind Analog, indicating that London will have no darkrooms in six months, I realised that the fading of one of my passions is not necessarily discouraging; it just means it is being replaced by new forms. So, with what I had at that moment⎯processed film, negative sleeves, photographic paper, and a desire to tell a story through black and white prints, I decided the best way to share my London experience was to improvise.
My photo essay starts in London with materials used to capture the past, and ends with innovative ideas, new visualisations, and stimulating concepts that fuel the future. The declining use of darkroom photography should be considered in order to better understand how my beginning and end are connected. This diminishing art affects the artist, the business world, science, and overall progress as a people.
Stemming from Maeda’s sand drawings and thought-provoking insight, the prospects of integrating technology and creativity are intriguing. Instead of upholding the principal that science and technology are the way of the future, Maeda suggests that art and design, in combination with scientific knowledge, could be the new form of future prosperity.
But how does my story, a story that has not been fully developed, fit into all of this? Well that is just it. Prints have not been made because my story has not been fully developed. If I had made them, they would have been black and white, but I did not because their purpose, my intentions are not black and white. They are grey. It is all grey: a photo essay without photos, an idea without motivation, a beginning without an end. In all of its vagueness, however, there is truth to an untold story and an uncertain future. A passion like darkroom photography is a driving force. It effects the way one thinks and acts. Even if this drive becomes physically impossible to pursue, the motivation behind it will take on new forms as it is directed towards other aspects of life.
We are happy to report that there are indeed still darkrooms left in London! Photofusion hires out their darkrooms and has student rates.
ANALOG: 10 January to 5 March 2011
Riflemaker 79 Beak Street, London W1