Photos by Jenny Fisher.
Photos by Jenny Fisher.

In Peterborough of 1856 a building was established that would become home to the longest running darkroom in Canada.

Shortly after this building was constructed, the Roy family, a family of photographers, bought it in 1896 and turned it into a dark room. For three generations the Roy family operated this darkroom/photography studio capturing the essence of life and work in the Peterborough area. In 1992 Rob Roy, the third Roy, died, and the Roy family retained ownership of the building into the early 2000s when it was sold to Miranda Hume. For a period of time the darkroom remained unused.

Then in late 2012, a wonderful thing happened! Elizabeth Fennel founded and opened Gallery in the Attic. “When the space was available for rent, I thought yes, this will be a really cool and perfect place to do a gallery,” says Fennel. Located at 140½ Hunter St., this art studio became a meeting ground for many artists throughout the Peterborough community.

In the spring of 2013 Fennel, recognizing the historical significance of the darkroom, (which at this point in time was serving as a makeshift kitchen as part of a improvised apartment) noting its reputation as the longest running darkroom, paired with an unfinished masters thesis on the Roy Studio archive that was created there, she decided the use this designated Heritage building for what is was designed to do, produce photos. And so became The Darkroom Project.

“The architecture of the space is one fascinating aspect, it is all designed around the pre-electric era, so the reason for the crazy windows and the old skylight is all because it was built before electricity was commonly used here,” explains Fennel. “It seemed like a no-brainer to get things going again.”

Fennel put the call out to photographers who still used film and created a group that would use the dark room. “Everything in the darkroom, all the equipment, is donated from photographers who had it in storage and didn’t want it to go to waste,” she says.

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Over the past two years the Gallery and the Darkroom have grown, “I feel like we are kind of part of a film revival movement, there’s definitely a strong group of people who are dedicated to keeping film alive. So as we’ve gone through this and developed a social media following and got to know other people in the film network, we have had visitors from all over Canada. People are really interested in what is happening in the space.

“We have workshops, we’ve been teaching about film and a lot of our members are young people who grew up more or less in the digital era and want to discover or rediscover film and how it works. It’s very hands-on, you are physically making an actual physical object,” says Fennel.

The Darkroom Project now has the official status as a not-for-profit organization, which is very helpful when it comes to getting government grants. “Her [Miranda Hume] long term goal is the same as mine, a restoration of the entire building and restoring the skylight, which is sort of there but covered over, and then operating it as a contemporary and historical photography cite. So that’s the long, long term plan.” Fennel can now ask for municipal or provincial funding because of this not-for-profit status, which will aid greatly in attaining this “long, long” term goal.

On April 2, The Dark Room Project is hosting an opening for the SPARK Festival, “we are hosting three different SPARK shows,” says Fennel. The opening will consist of the regular wine and cheese along with a meet the artist.

Then on April 11, there will be a birthday party that you won’t want to miss! This spring The Darkroom Project turns 2. There is going to be food and drinks, there is going to be door prizes there is going to be music and of course, there is going to be art!

The doors will open for the Birthday Party at 7:30 followed by musical performances from bands such as Roboteyes. There will also be a photo booth running the whole time, so for $20 while you are there have your photo snapped and know that you have made a very valuable contribution to a really great cause. The cover for the event is $10 and drinks are by donation. Now there’s a competitive drink price!

“My hope for the space is that it out lasts me and that it becomes the seed of something more significant over time,” says Fennel.

The word may be that film is a dying art but it is clear from projects such as The Darkroom Project that this is not so and that a film revival is on the rise.