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Bushwick trio revives old-school photography with community darkroom

Some of the vintage cameras on display at Bushwick’s new community darkroom on Flushing Avenue.  Photo by Amelia Martyn-Hemphill

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Over the last few years, Bushwick has come to be associated with all things up and coming. But one trio of artists is bucking the modernization trend. They’re keeping things retro.

Photographers Lucia Rollow, Vanessa Gill and Cheryl Georgette have joined forces to create an old-school time warp on Flushing Avenue. Together, they have concocted Bushwick’s first and only community darkroom and studio for photographers looking to shun the digital age and get back to the roots of their craft: hand-developing photos shot on film.

“I think part of being an artist is that you don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. I guess we’re just old souls!” laughed Gill.

The studio itself is fresh and bright, decked out in vintage lace and hand developed photographs, created by the studio’s affiliated artists and friends. An expansive collection of vintage cameras and flash bulbs are huddled into a display cabinet at the front of the studio.

“Old cameras just have more personality,” says Gill, comparing each intricately designed model to a piece of sculpture in it’s own right.

Step through the dividing curtain into the dark room itself and the more technical side of the studio is exposed. Large projectors are swathed in thick black curtains to maintain total darkness. Numerous washbasins and a structured system of different developing chemicals, fixers and tints are stacked neatly against the walls.

“You become a chemist when you start working in the darkroom, everyone has their own way,” Georgette says, as she details the various effects which can be achieved when developing your own photographs – both color tinted and black and white.

“I believe that the quality of film is still way beyond digital, it feels more real,” concludes Gill.

Developing each print by hand is a long and labor-intensive process, but time seems to stand still for these working photographers. They pore over their pieces with the utmost concentration, painstakingly painting with light to transform their film negatives into fully-fledged prints.

It’s a dying field of art but one that the girls are keen to nurture and maintain. “I think it’s important for people to know the history of photography,” says Rollow, “because anyone can pick up a camera and become a photographer these days, but if you don’t know anything about the science behind, it then it’s worthless.”

Though the necessary photographic materials may be hard to source, demand is building in Bushwick, and growing numbers of residents are being inspired to dig out their old cameras.

“It’s a very artistic community where people are interested in dabbling in this,” points out Gill. The dark room and studio are available to rent for advanced photographers, complete beginners and everyone in between. With two large darkroom compartments and several projectors to hand, there is space for both classes and individuals.

Photographer Ruvi Leder is entrenched in one of the dark room spaces working on a photo essay project. “It makes everything a bit more legitimate when you do it all yourself,” he says, as he emerges from behind the thick, black curtains for a break. "It makes you focus more on the physical object you’re creating.”

The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming to professionals and enthusiasts alike; some of the darkroom evening classes even have the option to bring your own booze. “Only in Brooklyn!” laughs Leder.

February 4, 2013 - 3:35pm


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