*By Florian Bardou
The main purpose of this series was a simple one – to document the end of an era. Most of these darkrooms have gone now. It was important for me to document these darkrooms with respect. I wanted to reveal the beauty of the machinery, and the human warmth of these workspaces (all of these darkrooms belong to professional printers). The enlargers have a statuesque quality which is missing in the digital age. Someone said these spaces look like altars to some mysterious religion. In more general terms the series is about craft and the endless march of technology.
I was born in Liverpool and grew up in Bristol. My father was a bank manager, and also an amateur photographer and super8 film-maker. When I was 10 he gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera and built a darkroom. He taught me how to process and print B&W film. The following year I won a scholarship and was sent off to boarding school. I didn’t
take well to the busy regimented lifestyle, so I escaped to the school darkroom whenever I could, enjoying the long quiet hours alone in the dark.
I wore a camera round my neck throughout my schooldays. I started an alternative school magazine and shot all the photos for it. But when it came to choosing a subject for university, photography was not an option – the only pupils from my school who went to art school were the stupid ones. I chose to study philosophy after reading the part in Bertrand Russell’s ‘Problems of Philosophy’ where he wonders whether his cat still exists when it disappears behind the sofa. It seemed like magical thinking. I enjoyed it for a while, but eventually got bogged down in ‘critical theory’.
After a BA and MA in philosophy I went to film school in Bristol and had a great year making 16mm movies- this was my art school, it taught me how to see. I worked in television for a while, but all this time I was taking photos, and process and printing them in various homemade darkrooms. Eventually I realised that my constant hobby was my vocation. I dropped everything else and concentrated on taking pictures.
When I started taking photography seriously, I liked to go to far off places to make pictures. I went to Japan several times and built a nice portfolio. When I showed the pictures to Terry Jones, the founder and creative director of i-D magazine, he liked them and started giving me assignments. But he also cautioned me against relying on exotica as my photographic subject. Often, he said, the best photographic subjects are right under your nose. That became a mantra for me.
I concentrated on photographing my neighbourhood (Bethnal Green, in East London) – the architecture and the people. But even this seemed exotic and ‘other’. I wanted to get closer to what really interested me – and that was photography, and in particular printing. One day I was in a hire darkroom, printing a commercial job, and I had an epiphany – photograph the enlarger. The previous year the hire darkroom had been packed with other young photographers, but now it was strangely quiet. Canon had just released their 5D digital SLR, and this effectively spelt the end of film. As the darkroom was vacated, I began to see it with fresh eyes.
I’m currently working on several projects related to the darkroom project – I’m looking at vinyl record production, audio recording with reel-to-reel tape, and film projection. When I’m not shooting projects I’m shooting commissions for magazines (mainly portraits). I’m quite busy with that at the moment.