FILM SPOTS #02: THE SILVERHILL DARKROOM
Founders & owners: Ian Land, Alex Brattell & Claire Billinger
Location: Hastings , UK
In business since: 2013
FotoFilmic: Can you briefly describe the type of analog photography facilities & services you offer?
Ian Land: We have half a dozen or so enlargers, some with colour heads, others with b&w heads, and can print negative sizes from 35mm all the way up to 5×4. We also have a range of film processing tanks of different sizes, a Jobo film processor, developing trays of different sizes, a large processing sink, and lots of expired chemistry and paper for people to experiment with free of charge. Members can use the darkroom most weekends and at other times provided we have notice. We also offer a range of workshops for different levels of experience and ages, including introductory workshops for children, and face-to-face tuition for those who want it. At the moment we are putting together a programme of workshops: introductions to b&w printing and film processing, colour printing and C41 film processing, lith printing, making pinhole cameras and shooting paper negatives. Longer term we would like to run workshops covering as many historical and alternative processes as we can, partly for our own fun but also to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try something different.
Ian Land, owner of the Silverhill Darkroom
F/F: What is the human & artistic story behind The Silverhill Darkroom ? What motivated you to create or sustain a kind of business many now see as obsolete (if not doomed)?
IL: Initially I was looking for a space to use as my personal darkroom. I’ve been predominantly an analogue b&w photographer for a long time, and having spent a year living in Berlin in 2011-2012, I wanted to print some of the pictures I took that year, with the intention of putting together an exhibition. The owner of the building in which we are now based, Paul Thomas of Martel Colour Print (a local digital printing business), offered me a space which was far too big for just that. I mentioned this to a friend, the photographer Alex Brattell, and my partner, Claire Billinger, and between us we decided to see if we could make something bigger happen. The result, over a year later, is the Silverhill Darkroom, probably the only facility of its kind in the south of England – a community-focused, entirely volunteer-run darkroom. We have half a dozen or so volunteers helping us to run the space, all of the equipment has been generously donated by local people (and some of it is of the very highest quality), and so far we have got to where we are with almost no income and no funding. The next stage is to try to generate enough income to pay our monthly rent, and to win sufficient funding to help pay for improved access to the building and a part-time member of staff. We are not seeking to make a profit, our model is to try to operate at a level where we can be as self-sustaining as possible. Large projects which rely on external funding are always vulnerable – if the funding is lost, the projects often close or scale back. So, we are looking to do as much as we can with income from membership and workshop fees. It helps that Paul, our landlord, is so supportive and patient with us. We couldn’t have got to where we are without him.
F/F: What’s the most important, rewarding or joyful aspect of your job?
IL: Teaching. I never had any great desire to teach, I’m quite a gregarious person by nature but my photographic practice has always been fairly solitary, but I have discovered that I absolutely love teaching. And I learn as much from the students as I manage to impart to them, I’m sure.
F/F: How are things right now? Was 2013 a good year? Where would you like to see The Silverhill Darkroom in 2-3 years from now?
IL: 2013 was a year of preparation, we ran a couple of courses and opened the space for a few events, but mainly we were looking for equipment and volunteers, and testing the water. Plus, my baby daughter was born, and she took up a lot of time which might otherwise have been used in the darkroom! But now we are open, have some members, a brilliant group of enthusiastic volunteers, and are close to launching a programme of workshops. We are also hoping to take the darkroom on the road in the summer, into local schools and community events. If in 2-3 years we have managed to raise the profile of analogue photography in the area, have given people a chance to try things they might never otherwise have experienced, and have had some fun along the way, I’ll be very happy with that.
IL: We have a website at http://www.silverhilldarkroom.
FILM SPOTS focus on existing analog photography businesses (photo labs, public darkrooms, traditional photo stores, etc..) in an effort to both promote them, and fight the general assumption that traditional and film photography industries are progressively disappearing.