Richard Nicholson: London’s last darkrooms
In 2007, when Richard Nicholson began photographing London’s professional darkrooms, there were some 204 still in existence. When he completed the project three years later, only 8 remained. His resulting series of lovingly crafted photographs.
The project is both an archive and a tribute to a dying craft; as the spaces drop out of use, Nicholson frames them, sealing them in the past. “It was Ansel Adams first said that, ‘the negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.’ I think he meant, in a literal sense, that the developing process is always an interpretation of the negative… But I see the lab also, in a sense, as a performance space for an antiquated craft,” the artist said.
Photographic manufacturers Durst no longer produce enlargers and, according to Nicholson, annual sales have dropped from a peak of 107,000 units in 1979 to just a few hundred units in recent years. Polaroid has stopped making instant film, and Kodak and Fuji have discontinued many of their emulsions.
“My enlarger (a handsomely engineered GEM 504) has been an invisible tool, but now it presents itself as a sad and lumpen creature in the face of extinction,” he says.
“The spaces I discovered were often haphazard and brimming with personal details: coffee cups, CD collections, family snaps, unpaid invoices, curious knick-knacks brought back by globe-trotting photographers. These human elements transformed what might have been a detached typology of modernist industrial design into something more intimate and nuanced.”
Nicholson’s photographs were taken on a large format film. “Working in total darkness, I carefully painted these normally dingy spaces with a flashgun, seeking to reveal the beauty of the machinery, and shed some light on the clutter stained with the patina of time,” he writes in the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue.