As a child of the eighties and nineties, shooting with film wasn’t exotic back then the way it is these days for people who have grown up mainly using digital products. In particular for me since my parents owned a small photo developing shop called “Speedy Sam One Hour Photo”. The shop (with a roadrunner cartoon on the logo) was located in a desolate Arizona strip mall in the mid eighties until Photomats followed by Walgreens put both of the former out of business. I ended up taking photography classes in high school and learned how to shoot, develop and print my own film. Then there was a long stretch of time when I stopped taking photos altogether besides using disposable cameras for “special occasions”.
Then came the advent of the camera phone which reminded me how much I love taking photos and documenting things. Now and in recent months I’ve become bored with the ease of pulling a camera out of my purse and shooting everything in sight and so I purchased a cheap Canon TX film camera. For a three month period I shot my friends and travels using mainly the film camera in lieu of my camera phone. I decided to get weird with one of my shoots and went out into the desert with an old friend of mine during a visit to Arizona, and shot him chilling out completely nude on some massive rocks. After three months of shooting, I ended up with around thirty rolls of undeveloped film. I thought to take them all in to a shop in Brooklyn to be developed but instead decided to research and find a place where I could possibly develop my own film. A quick search online and luckily I found Bushwick Community Darkroom.
The BCD is a place where you can develop and print your own film from start to finish. There are teachers and classes there to help you along the way and once you pass the novice stage you can pay to rent studio and dark room time anytime of the day or night. I arrived with three rolls of black and white film, and since it had been around twenty years since I last developed my own film in high school, I started with the beginners class led by Harriet Roberts and Keith Marlowe (Who were each teaching separate courses but were both there to help everyone for any photo developing/printing related need).
I greatly enjoyed the process of developing my own film and the outcome of some of the black and white photos I had taken (including the nudie session).
Here’s a Q&A with Keith Marlowe who teaches classes and also helped build the BCD:
The Gone Cat: Tell us a brief overview of Bushwick Community Darkroom:
Keith Marlowe: Lucia Rollow is the founder, she’s run the BCD for five years. It’s a community space for people to use the darkrooms, get film processed, take classes and show work. To use the space you can become a member, pay by the hour, or volunteer for free use. Members get 24hr access, so there’s almost always people there working. It’s great to have a place with so many people who have the same passion for photography. It fosters a creative environment.
GC: What’s your role at BCD?
KM: I became involved when Lucia moved from the previous location on Knickerbocker two years ago. I did a lot of the design/construction of the current space. Now I help with on-going construction, maintenance, getting new equipment for the space, aligning enlargers, etc. I take off for months at a time, so I’m not involved with any day-to day stuff.
I started teaching the classes about a year ago. I’ve taught photography/darkroom classes in one form or another for almost 20 years, going back to my high school days. I really enjoy it. Some people I’ve taught have done really impressive work, and had their lives changed by the opportunities shooting has offered, to be able to play a part in that is huge to me. I had a great teacher in college, Andrew Borowiec, he had an enormous impact on my development as a photographer, it was a life-changing event for me. I want to pass that experience on. My wife Harriet teaches a lot of the classes with me too, it’s just something that’s always been a part of my life.
GC: How long did it take to build BCD?
KM: We started construction on the space in April of 2015. I think we had the gang B&W darkroom operational by July, and the other ones a bit after that. We’re constantly working on the place, trying to make it better. We’re building a large-format darkroom now.
GC: Are you also a photographer aside from running BCD? Do you shoot only in film in your photography work?
KM: If you mean ‘photographer for a job’ I made a living for 15 years shooting, I worked for Spin, Life, Volcom…it’s a long list at this point. I kinda got burned out dealing with editors/deadlines/touring/etc, a few years ago and now I only take on projects I’m really interested in. Not shooting to pay bills has freed me up to spend more time with my own photography. All the photos I deal with now are important to me and I can put maximum time and effort into them. That’s also a luxury that comes with having built a darkroom I can use whenever I want. I also just started a scanning/printing shop called Borough Photo with Harriet and my friend Richard, so everything I do is photo related in one way or another. http://www.boroughphoto.com
I shoot a lot of both film and digital. I usually shoot film for myself, and digital for assignments. I’ll always be a photographer, it might just not always be my job.
GC: What’s your favorite thing about film as opposed to digital?
KM: There’s so many ways to answer that. They are two completely different mediums with their own personalities. I’ve been shooting and developing my own film for 25 years, it’s a huge part of my life. The thought process of all the stages of what happens to the film from exposure to development is deeply ingrained in how I think and photograph. In that respect, my favorite thing would be the history and role that I have with film. If I had learned on a digital camera first, that part of me wouldn’t be there.
The thought process with film is much more careful and considered. There isn’t the immediate feedback of digital, so I have to concentrate get the correct exposure. I think that helps me connect to my subject on a deeper level, and I’m more engaged in all aspects of taking the picture. With digital, the camera does so much of the work, and I can take endless shots, it’s easier to not fully concentrate. I like that film forces me think.
GC: If you could have a big dinner party at BCD with 3 great photographers past/present whom would you choose?
KM: As a group, I’d pick Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. They had an enormous influence on me when I was studying photography. The amount of information they got in a single frame, their ability to capture, convey and evoke such emotion, was mindblowing to me. By the New Documents exhibit in 1967, they were all shooting at such a high level, creating enormous bodies of work that really added to the language of photography. Their impact on how I see photography is inestimable. That dinner would be a big deal to me!
For three separate photographers:
Walker Evans. Along with Garry Winogrand, probably the person who influenced me the most. There are so many great photographers, but there’s something about his work that I really connect with.
Fox Talbot. I’d be interested to see what someone who played such a significant role in its development thinks of photography 200 years later. A world full of people who can take a photo of anything at anytime with almost no effort. Everybody is walking around with pictures in their pockets. How weird would that be for him?
The last spot is a toss-up between Weegee and Atget. I can’t decide.