Chicago Community Darkroom

I have been looking for a darkroom to use in Chicago for a while. It is pretty hard to find one and options are fairly limited. An option I almost considered was to sign up for a community college class but then blow off all the assignments just to be able to use the darkroom when open it is available, but come on, really? Do I really want to be that jerk? Of course not!

A friend of mine linked me to
Chicago Community Darkroom's website this past week and it just so happens that they are offering a workshop on black and white photography as well as a darkroom lab. This is perfect, I feel like I am super rusty at both of those that this will be a great way to refresh those skills. I wanted to do more research on the lab and I wanted to see what kind of equipment was available before signing up, but space was limited and I signed up probably within 8 minutes of knowing this place even existed. Yes, I was that stoked. I haven't shot film in over ten years and everything I have done since then has been commercial work or ActionBooth events where we do everything we can to be able to shoot in high volume.

The darkroom is located on the fourth floor on 1000 N Milwaukee Ave. Make sure you enter through the grey doorway near the keypad. Dial 002 on the keypad and hope that someone answers to let you in on the first ring. If not, Greg will probably be the first to answer and gladly buzz the door. The evening before I had no clue where to go, and accidentally entered through
Gala Gallery. They were nice enough to let us in and direct us to where we needed to go. Thank you! I hope we will work together in the future.

Before you get into the darkroom proper, you'll land inside of
Multikulti, a multi cultural meeting space for artists and activism. Check out their site, you may find something nice that they offer.

Classes started and I was welcomed by Patrick, one of the board members of Chicago Community Darkroom. When not at CCD Patrick is Chicago's Photographer. Amazing title right? The first thing I thought of was
The Rock and his People's Elbow move. What Patrick really does is shoot any image that the city of Chicago needs, wether it be covering politicians, building architecture, roadside conditions, skyline ariel photographs from inside of helicopters, etc. This guy was legit. He looks like and is as sweet as Kenneth from 30 Rock, sounds like Bob Ross, but knows what he is talking about like Neil DeGrassi Tyson. I would highly recommend studying under him, it was a pleasure and at times, he will be more excited than you to see your prints being developed.

The class was small, three students total. This was perfect for the space they had and the equipment available. Anything larger and there would have been more waiting time than production time. Having the class that small also allowed Patrick to give more of his attention to our questions and give tips on how to shoot what we wanted to capture. He made sure all of our cameras were in working order and we went out and about around the neighborhood to get some exposures to process. This was the part where we either had more time to shoot, or come with a half roll of film already shot and finishing off the roll under his guidance. If I were to volunteer at CCD, it would be to take out members on shooting field trips so they will be excited to get back to the darkroom and process their images. I am still pretty green when it comes to black and white darkroom processing, but well versed on camera techniques, composition. I think that could be my contribution.

Once back at the labs, Patrick guided us on how to get our film processed, prepped the negatives to make contact sheets, test strips, and eventually full on prints. This is where all the magic happens. It's such a different feeling from working with anything digital. There really isn't anything you can speed up when working in the dark room. Things take time. So much time. But while working in the darkroom, you don't mind. It is a serene experience, meditative and extremely rewarding once you are holding a print you are completely happy with.

Digital photography is great. It is fast, you see your shot right away, you can make corrections on the fly and processing your files to be sent out to whomever may need it from you take seconds. That's how we work at ActionBooth, and I am sure that's how newspapers and magazines work as well. Working with black and white film really slows you down. You are now on a budget of twenty four to thirty six photos per roll. If you are broke, you are totally going to take care of those shots because you need as many of them to make it to print.

In the seven hours spent in this workshop, I was able to print out two photos of the twenty two exposures I shot. If this were an ActionBooth event of the same time span, we would have taken well over five hundred images, printed out seven hundred photos and made four hundred people happy.



Was I happy with those two? Absolutely! I felt so accomplished and my classmates who also printed two felt the same way. It was such a wonderful way to spend a Saturday reacclimating myself to why I wanted to become a photographer in the first place.

Would I recommend taking this workshop? Yes. I would maybe even take it again with you.

Bottom line is, the Chicago Community Darkroom is a nonprofit organization that enables artists and photographers to be able to work on their craft at fair prices. But the resources don't stop with just the gear/lab rentals, the board members that I've met are very passionate and knowledgeable about all things photography. They are there and willing to share, teach and collaborate with you and at the very least talk shop about which gear to get and why they all seem to prefer Nikon over Canon. Ha.

Hopefully I'll see you there some time. Let's shoot together and make magic happen in the darkroom.


Here are the two prints I made in the workshop. Shot on a Canon T50. The sewer one is inspired by Lizelle who takes pictures of her feet standing next to or on top of stuff.
Sewer & Trees

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