Industry Insight: The Fox Darkroom, AU

Introduce us to The Fox Darkroom.
Hi, The Art of Film! We like to think of The Fox Darkroom as an all encompassing home of analogue photography. It’s both our own wonderland and a blossoming creative space. We’re based in Kensington, Melbourne and offer workshops and a store as well as being open to the community and public to explore. Our gallery also regularly features photographers working with both analogue and digital mediums. We’re equipped to develop and print 35mm, 120, 4×5 and 8×10. We also offer workshops in Tintype (Wet Plate Collodion) and hand colouring.

We’re curious, where did the ‘fox’ derive from?
The name Fox is a reference to Henry Fox Talbot – one of the pioneers of the modern photographic process.What would you advise someone looking to develop their first roll of film, and is there a film stock/format that you would recommend to those just starting out?
We’re big Ilford fans and generally recommend starting with a film like HP5 for it’s flexibility and reliable quality. Whether you start on 35mm or 120, the process of shooting and developing your film will be quite similar, so we recommend just using what you have! When first starting out shooting film, some find it helpful to stick to one type of film and camera for the first little while so that you can focus on producing repeatable results and honing your skills. HP5 is a perfect film for this as it can cover almost any situation with a great ability to be pushed in low light.
As far as developing goes – we recommend finding a good teacher! Your teacher could be a friend, a relative or a local darkroom/educational facility. Developing film for the first time can be a tricky, hands-on process and having an experienced teacher to guide you will make your first few attempts a lot smoother! With that being said, the best approach is always to just get in there and give it a go. Even if that means your first few attempts are a bit rocky, don’t be discouraged. You’ll pick it up quicker than you think! There are so many incredible labs out there producing quality scans. Tell us about the benefits of printing in the darkroom as opposed to printing from a digital scan?
Traditional wet printing and scanning both have their advantages and applications to which they’re better suited. With that being said, a well executed darkroom print will always have a look, feel and tonality about it that can’t be recreated digitally. Darkroom prints are one-off, handmade pieces which, like a painting, may never be perfectly replicated. When we do away with the constraints of bit depths and dynamic range, a unique tonality can be orchestrated through the combination of a film stock, paper stock and a printer who knows how to use these tools.What are some typical challenges that a photographer may face when printing in the darkroom?
Printing in a darkroom is an art form within itself, and needs to be approached as such. People new to the darkroom may initially think of the printing process as if it is the end of their workflow, rather than the beginning of a completely seperate one. Like any art form, it takes time and patience to learn and a lifetime to master. Just like developing film, the best approach is to just get in there and give it a go! Learning how to dodge, burn, split grade and tone is a total feedback response journey and the more you see your results come to life the more addicted you will get!

The Fox Gallery showcases both emerging and established photographers. What advice would you give to those looking to run their first solo exhibition?
Taking time to develop your series and concept is the most important part of showing a body of work. How you show it, where you show it and how the work flows from one image to another will eventually be what makes a series engaging and dynamic. The viewer needs to be told a story as they move throughout the room. If there is only one guideline that we always follow when considering showing a body of work, it is that a story must be communicated. Aside from that somewhat technical answer – the act of exhibiting for the first time is a huge milestone in any artists career and we love being a part of helping new artists get across that line. Your network will play a huge roll in the first exhibition you display, so remember to tap into your friends and family before the big event. Most importantly be proud of what you’ve achieved! It’s an incredible feeling and your first show only happens once, so enjoy it! You must have some incredible talent coming through both the darkroom and gallery, not to mention your workshops, is there anyone we should be keeping an eye out for?
We absolutely do! There is some incredible work coming out of our membership and community – the best thing to watch is just how passionate everybody is! A great example of this is our member Nick Hinch whose exhibition The Space In Between we just opened the other day in the gallery. Nick has been involved in Fox for years and his new project is absolutely world class. It’s an incredible feeling to see people grow around us every day and we get so excited to provide a platform for this work to be seen.The Fox Darkroom runs international tours, tell us more!
We do! Every year we take a small group of people to Cambodia for an in-depth, assignment based photographic tour. We organise individual assignments based on the interests and skill levels of our participants that encourage them to grow and learn as photographers over the course of the week. We also just have a lot of fun, travelling and meeting incredible people off the beaten track. It’s a fantastic week.

Tom, we’d love to hear more about your current project, Of the Sea.
Of the Sea is an long-term project exploring humanity’s changing relationship with the worlds oceans. It currently features imagery from Sri Lanka, India, Papua and Australia. I’m pretty excited about this one, and I won’t say much more right now other than that I have a showing of this series coming up next year which will be independent of our gallery.

With such a well-equipped darkroom right at your fingertips, how often do you get in there to get your hands dirty yourself?
I go through stages with printing depending on what kind of work I’m creating. My frequency can vary between most days to only once a month, but I love getting in there and producing work regardless. The last prints I was doing were just 8×10 personal shots from my last holiday! It doesn’t always have to be a big printed series – although that is usually what gets me in the darkroom and keeps me there for long periods of time.What does the future hold for The Fox Darkroom?
From humble beginnings, Fox has grown and changed forms many times. Far more than we could have predicted. While the community darkroom will always be at the core of what we do, we’ve been expanding into many other areas recently including international workshops, our partnership with Australian Photography Awards, a creative agency and digital workshops to compliment our array of analogue based educational programs. Our historic building will be going under a massive renovation in the coming year as well to eventually contain a bunch of new organisations including a brewery, distillery and music production studio – all of which we’re excited to collaborate with in the future! In line with that renovation we will be rebuilding the darkroom to make it bigger and better than it’s ever been before!

Lasting thoughts:
We’d love to thank everybody involved in Fox over the years – all of our members, volunteers, those who attend our events and gallery as well as our dedicated team of staff who keep this place going. To anybody who is interested, don’t hesitate to come down and see us for a session, tour of the darkroom or just to have a chat! Also, a big thank you to The Art of Film for this interview!

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