Local non-profit, old-fashioned photography darkroom and its administrator, Elizabeth Fennell, struggle to maintain the goal to “keep hand made photography alive in Peterborough.” The non-profit business is called The Peterborough Darkroom Project and is just downtown on Hunter Street West. The darkroom is available for anyone in the public to use with just a paid membership.
Unfortunately, with the uprise in digital photography, old-fashioned analog photography has become almost extinct, and with it, so does the darkroom experience.
“Keeping this space in use is important, so we can continue to demonstrate and exhibit hand-made photochemical photographic processes,” said Fennell, the administrator of the Project, and Trent Alumni. With a passion for darkroom photography, she is the go-to person to describe the darkroom experience, “It’s alchemy basically- a combination of chemistry and art equaling magic.”
She expresses the darkroom experience as being not only “magic” and “vintage,” but also emphasizes that it has educative purposes, and stated, “There are all sorts of things we could demonstrate, teach, and create with. We’re just getting started.”
However, this goal becomes a struggle for Fennell and the other volunteers when financial issues arise from lack of use of the studio. “There isn’t a huge amount of money in it, as many commercial darkrooms found during the digital revolution. People just aren’t printing their photographs on a regular basis anymore,” said Fennel, and added, “Having the darkroom involves costs: rent of the space, cost of chemistry and paper, things like that. Without members using the space on a regular basis, we can’t cover those costs.”
Luckily, they have been accepted for non-profit status, which is “a tax-bracket status for organizations that provide community service which isn’t commercially profitable, and doesn’t necessarily generate income.” The plan for The Darkroom Project is to eventually become a charitable status, which is achieved by being at a non-profit status for three years. Once the organization is at charitable status, people who donate to The Peterborough Darkroom Project can receive a tax receipt for that donation.
Saving the darkroom is not only preserving the darkroom experience, but it is also saving history. “The whole point of the Peterborough Darkroom Project is to keep Canada’s longest, continually operating darkroom in use. As the site of the Roy Studio, located on the upper level at 140-1/2 Hunter St. W., our building is historically significant, both for Peterborough and for photography. Keeping this space in use is important, so we can continue to demonstrate and exhibit hand-made photochemical photographic processes,” explained Fennell.
So, how can the historical site darkroom be saved? Simply by having more people using it and taking advantage of the opportunity! “We have an introductory course running right now that people can drop into. If they look on our Facebook page’s events section, they’ll see the different weeks outlined, and can drop in on those,” encouraged Fennell.
Taking classes isn’t the only way to get involved. There is an art gallery just next to the darkroom studio called The Attic where local artists can present their work and anyone can take a look. Coming up this April, The Attic will only present darkroom-made analog photos during the photo festival called Spark.
With big plans and lots of enthusiasm from Fennell, old-fashioned darkroom photography and the Roy Studio might just give more people the darkroom experience.
“My hope is that as we grow, and go from non-profit to charity, and develop our mandate, we become part of the network of analog photographic resources in the country, a facility that supports the work being done by archives like the Peterborough Museum,” Fennell shared.
For more information, check out The Peterborough Darkroom Project on Facebook.