London Darkrooms

    It’s been a weird week and one that seemed to revolve around many of the London printers I used to hang out with in the pubs of Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. It’s as if I’ve been in a time warp or an episode of Dr. Who.

    Now, I’ve just been pointed towards the website of Richard Nicholson who has photographed many of the last remaining professional darkrooms in the city including many of the printers that I mentioned in an earlier post. Maybe it’s because I’m a printer, but I LOVE these images. And you’ve got to love that speaker balancing precariously on Adrian’s 504…

    Debbie Sears

    Adrian Ensor

    Klaus Kalde

    Mike Spry

    Roy Snell

    All images copyright © Richard Nicholson.

    A Sad Time

    Image © Nikki Gibbs, print by Adrian Ensor

    It’s hard to believe but I have been printing for other photographers now for nearly 30 years. The time hasn’t always flown by, but I have – and I really believe this – had fun for most of that time. And some of the best times were in the 1980s and early 1990s when I was fortunate to know (and of course socialise with), many great printers in London. Roy Snell, Klaus Kalde, Mike Spry, Steve Walsh, Ron Bagley, Adrian Ensor, Barbara Curtin and Debbie Sears amongst others. And of course, Bill Rowlinson. Sadly, I have just learned that Bill died last week.

    When I started to print exhibitions and portfolios way, way back then, there were three printers who greatly influenced my career. Ron Bagley, Roy Snell and Bill. In their own styles, they were, and are, all great printers, but each of them gave to me something different.

    From Ron I learned about the commercial aspect of printing. Not always in a this-is-how-it-should-be-done way, but sometimes more of a how not to do it way. And I think anyone who knew Ron will laugh and agree. I worked for Ron for about 4 years, although it seemed like 10, because we had so much fun and so much happened. And Ron’s handling of clients was something to behold. Whatever words were exchanged, amicable or unprintable, the clients usually left laughing.

    From Roy I learned how to print. Not in the most basic sense, as I’d been printing for years before I met Roy, but he taught me how to make a print that had feeling. To watch Roy work and produce such stunning prints with apparent ease was so inspiring; suddenly everything made sense. It’s hard to put into words, but even today, when I have that gut feeling of knowing a print is right, that’s what I learned from Roy. A day in the darkroom (which was too infrequent) with Roy was always a joy and something to look forward to.

    And Bill. He gave me the courage and advice not only to constantly strive to produce excellent, award-winning prints, but to really do what you believe in, do it from the heart and not sell out. And to go out on a limb occasionally, because “if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes”. In later years he became quite a private man, and I lost contact with him some years ago, but when I left London for America in 1996, Bill quietly gave me some advice and words of encouragement which I still treasure and follow to this day. Those words have always been very personal and special to me and I have never really discussed them with anyone else, but he was right. He always was.

    UPDATE There’s an obituary in the British Journal of Photography by its former editor Chris Dickie, now publisher of Ag, here.



    The Diana arrived this morning, fresh out of the mould from the Lomographic Society. I still can’t believe I paid $50 for a plastic camera, but then again, when I think about how much I spend on platinum, palladium and polymer plates, the thought of a nice photogravure from a Diana negative balances it out.

    One of the reasons I was persuaded to buy it is that it has the ability to function as a pinhole camera as well as a regular camera, and even then you have two choices. You can either set the aperture to pinhole and keep the lens in place or remove the lens to give you a true 120 pinhole camera. Quite versatile!

    According to the wonderful little book that came with it, Diana + True Tales & Short Stories, Wolfgang Möbius even designed the Porsche 928 with the Diana’s smooth lines in mind.

    And on a lighter note – should you ever take this camera seriously – they even produce special editions. There’s The White Stripes Meg edition in red and white, and the all-white Eidelweiss. Now, how about The Jesus and Mary Chain version in all-black? Oh, that’s right. It’s called the Holga.

    meg.jpg ew.jpg