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Wednesday, July 30

Darkroom a casualty of New York camera club move

The club's premises at 336 West 37th Street.

The Camera Club of New York has finally succumbed to financial pressure and decided to do away with its darkroom - the first time in its 126-year history that members will not have access to in-house printing facilities. The loss has been caused by the club's decision to give up its spacious but expensive Manhattan premises and move to a cheaper facility on the Lower East Side that will serve as a gallery and educational facility - but without the darkroom.

This isn't just your common or garden camera club but one of the most prestigious in the world which, amongst many firsts, introduced the Leica to America. Early members Alfred Steiglitz and Paul Strand might well be spinning in their graves at the news but, at least, the club has taken steps to enter into a space sharing agreement with the International Center of Photography so all is not lost. Members will be able to use the centre's darkroom facilities instead.

Encouragingly (in an ironic fashion), it doesn't seem as if it's a lack of interest in traditional printing that has forced the decision but just the huge $11,000 a month rent CCNY was paying for its Midtown Manhattan premises along with a general decline in membership. CCNY board member Allen Frame said, "When we announced this, there was a lot of dismay, and I totally sympathized as someone who still shoots film myself. But when faced with the financial situation it was hard to argue against the idea of a partnership.”

Here are a few interesting facts about the club from Wikipedia:

"Over the years the club helped launch revolutionary new approaches to photography and nurture many photographers who later became giants in the field. Alfred Stieglitz used the club as a forum and venue to convince a still skeptical public that photography was an art worthy of comparison to painting.

"Later, as the medium matured, the club was again the place where the new "straight photography" approach would emerge. Paul Strand, who joined the camera club at 17, was introduced to a camera at the club that had a right-angle viewfinder, allowing one to photograph people unawares. Strand used this camera to produced some of his most memorable images on the streets of New York, including Blind Woman and Wall Street.

"The camera club was also an important place to hear about new advances in photography. For instance, X-Ray photography was demonstrated there in 1898 and the Autochrome Lumière process, an early form of color photography, in 1909.

"In 1930 Willard Morgan first introduced the new Leica camera to club members. Among the important lectures held at the Club were Aero Photography by Edward Steichen in 1921 and The Life and Work of Eugène Atget by Berenice Abbott in 1931. Later, Richard Avedon lectured on fashion Photography in 1949."

I'm not sure how this story leaves me feeling. On the one hand, an illustrious photography club has lost important facilities which will probably mean fewer members are tempted to try their hand at darkroom work in future. But on the other, in a world where digital photography had never been invented, the CCNY would still have had to give up its premises just because of the outrageous property costs in some parts of New York. A loss to photography in general rather than film and darkroom in particular, I suppose. Cold comfort indeed.

You can read more about the move here.

1 comment :

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for the article. Honestly, I'm surprised they lasted that long at the Manhattan address with the price of real estate as it is.

Hopefully this move and sharing of facilities will serve to focus darkroom practices into one space.

Darkroom's can be a lonely place on your own. For years I lived in Bristol and used the darkroom facilities at the Watershed Arts Centre (late 90's). 90% of the time I would be there alone having run of the place to myself.

There were lots of people around, a busy bar/restaurant, crowds flocking in to watch the best of independent cinema, and many signing up for the new 'digital darkroom' - scanning and learning about this new computer programme called 'Photoshop'. These courses were always fully subscribed.

There was something quite un-nerving about being completely alone when the rest of the place was teeming with life. I remember a member of staff coming in whilst I was drying some prints and being shocked that the darkroom was actually being used.

How I longed for some company there, someone to discuss prints with, films, cameras, developer etc etc. In the end, due to lack of use, the darkroom was scrapped to make way for new 'digital suites'.

So I suppose if this move for the NY camera club serves to focus more traditional printers into one space where a healthy and vibrant community can flourish then that can only be a good thing.

A case of united we stand / divided we fall possibly ?