Thanks to a generous donation from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a super cool landlord in Gowanus who’s trying to keep the neighborhood arty, the Gowanus Darkroom went from being a distant dream to a reality for Rachel Jun and Jonathan Rodgers. “We just went for it,” Rachel said of the darkroom that opened up in February. And they’re lucky they nabbed this particular place. Darkrooms and photo studios are generally in basements, closets, warehouses, anywhere dark and dank, really. But forget all that when it comes to Gowanus Darkroom. The place is located at the top floor of an industrial building with a massive, wide-open floor plan and impressive natural light flooding in from skylights.
The natural light is an asset for shooting in-studio photos, but is of course shut out of the darkroom itself, where all the magical stuff happens. We met up with Rachel today, who gave us a tour of the place and filled us in on what Gowanus Darkroom has to offer, and it’s very similar to what’s happening at Bushwick Community Darkroom.
All this reminded us to check in with BCD to see how things are going. Lucia Rollow founder of the community darkroom, wrote in an email, “Things are chugging along beautifully,” and “looking so much better than we ever imagined.” Construction is still in the works, and there’s no word on an exact opening date, but stay tuned for updates.
“We’re actually good friends with them,” Rachel explained. Like BCD, Gowanus Darkroom offers classes, hourly rental, and monthly memberships priced competitively. “There aren’t many darkrooms in Brooklyn, a bunch of them actually closed recently, and there’s definitely nothing in this area,” she said. “This space kind of just fell into our laps.”
Rachel is a fine art photographer and lives in nearby Carroll Gardens but spends a lot of time in Gowanus. “I love this neighborhood,” she said. “We really wanted to get in here before it blows up and rent went up.”
And she seems right at home in the new space. There’s a comfortable seating area and black and white prints posted on the walls. Darkroom users have access to the finished roof for hanging out during break time, but the inside is so nice it’s hard to imagine wanting to leave the space at all.
What’s more, the equipment here is top notch. “It’s really professional level stuff,” Rachel explained. “And the guy who facilitated the donations built darkrooms for police stations back in the day.”
The darkroom is equipped for black-and-white developing and processing only and has 10 individual enlarging stations including a large format 8×10 enlarger for mural prints. “I think that’s our most unique piece of equipment,” Rachel said. The studio has fully-lit wet and dry work stations in the main room and a large workspace in the darkroom as well.
For now, Gowanus Darkroom is offering only basic skills classes. But in the near future the darkroom plans to hold studio lighting courses and some digital photography workshops as well. “We have a large format printer and scanner for digital stuff,” Rachel explained.
We wondered if Rachel thought a renewed interest in film photography is shaping up in Brooklyn. Sure, anyone can go to Brooklyn Flea and scoop up one of those throwback point-and-shoots with Instagram-esque light leaks beat right in, but are more people actually going to the trouble to learn how to develop and process film themselves?
“Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I feel that’s the case,” Rachel said. “Digital has become so prevalent– even iPhones take great photos now–so as an artist, film really sets you apart and heightens the quality of the fine art medium.”
Gowanus Dark Room is located at 119 8th St. Suite 212 in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Hourly rates and classes can be found on their website.