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The ‘magical experience’ of Camberwell’s Darkrooms

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Published date 26 May 2014

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We talked to Camberwell Technician and CSM MA Fine Art graduate John Whapman about Camberwell’s Open House event and The Darkroom Experience Workshop. John’s passion for teaching and photography drove him to become part of the photography team at Camberwell over 10 years ago. He believes that Camberwell’s eclectic fine art approach to photography encourages students to think about what it means to take photographs within a fine art context, as opposed to only fulfilling the technical and commercial bracket which you may usually expect.

CCA: What do you enjoy about the Open House event at Camberwell?

JW: One of the things that I like about the Open House event and why we call it ‘The Darkroom Experience’ is that, particularly with young people, there is a yearning to understand how images are generated and you can only see that in its organic form through a chemical substance experience, such as the dark room.

For instance, I remember one young girl taking part in the dark room workshop last year; she kept using the word ‘magic’ when she saw the image going through the developer and I can’t forget that because it is a bit like alchemy and to see and experience that it’s incredible.

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CCA: Why do you think the event is important?

JW: People in their twenties or even younger, don’t have a memory of analogue photography and they are the ones who look particularly interested in seeing how things originated. It’s almost like a ‘revolution’ as if they are rejecting the massive purchasing of the digital environment.  When they see this primitive side of photography, they feel as if they are put in charge and are completely responsible for the outcomes and mistakes.  Sometimes the mistakes are inspiring and with the digital approach perhaps you don’t see that.

I’m very excited about the future for analogue, it’s changed and we shouldn’t be using the word photography all the time when we associate it with the dark room. Some of the photography pioneers talk about pictures and printmaking and not using the word photography as we use now because it’s got a lot to do with printmaking, painting and sculpture. In the darkroom, a photogram exists on its own as a unique object. We should be looking at how exhilarating it’s to use light and chemistry to generate images.

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CCA: Would you recommend people to come to the event?

JW: Yes, the Dark Room Experience is immediate and easy, people can take home something tangible that they just made. Every year the workshops have grown; the emphasis now is that people who visit would leave with something real and palpable next to an unforgettable experience. At the end of the Open House event, you may be very exhausted but you feel that you have made many people very happy. I feel sorry for people who don’t ever get this experience of photography in its pure and primitive form, who will grow up never really understanding how these images that surround us all the time are generated. The Dark Room allows you to see how the images on your phone are created.’

Currently students at Camberwell have access to the following  darkroom facilities: Digital Darkroom, Photographic Studio, Multi Format Fibre Darkroom, 35mm B&W Resin Darkroom, Specialist Print Darkroom, B&W Film Processing.