For our next jaunt in the series of Q&As with creative start-up businesses, we welcome to the blog Dan Wheeler. Dan has recently set-up a traditional photography studio in Derby, called The Photo Parlour.
What is the Photo Parlour?
The Photo Parlour is a small community based darkroom and studio to hire in Derby. We offer a space for traditional photographers to produce work, learn new skills and hone their craft. We have a studio for hire suitable for both analogue and traditional photographers as well as a small shop selling Photographic products such as film, paper, chemicals and cameras. There is also a gallery space displaying local photographers work.
What do you hope is the primary purpose of the business?
The primary purpose of the business is to provide a friendly space for traditional photographers to develop their own work and use facilities they might not have access to at home, as well as meet other photographers and show their work. Many photographers using film struggle to find processing facilities at a fair price and therefore end up leaving their lovely old cameras on the side to gather dust. I want to give those people the opportunity to get the most out of the equipment they love and develop their work in a comfortable and friendly environment at a fair price.
I will also be selling photographic products that are currently hard to get on the high street and running a range of workshops for film photographers, suitable for all levels and abilities.
How did the idea come about?
I set up a home darkroom in a cupboard kitted out with the abundance of equipment I have collected over the years, but the struggle for space (I’m quite tall so I couldn’t even stand up properly in there!) was always less than ideal. I also had no extraction so I had to be careful not to spend too much time in there for fear of passing out. I knew there were no communal facilities available to me locally which I could just pop to after work and in my free time, so I made do. I’ve also found since working in education that postgraduate students have found it difficult to access facilities to continue their practice. Of course the internet is a wonderful resource for those with no experience who fancy giving developing and printing a go at home, but a lot of my friends who have tried found the technicality of setting up enlarges and mixing chemicals quite daunting. A number of long-established and well equipped darkrooms have ceased trading in recent years and the decline of traditional photography has constantly been debated.
However recently film photography has enjoyed a bit of a revival, so to me it seemed like a perfect opportunity to start something up which gave myself and other people the facilities and the space to produce work.
Have you found similar projects being run elsewhere?
I am aware of other darkrooms in the UK that provide similar services. Photographer Steven Taylor is currently setting up The Alchemists Workshop in the Lake district, which looks like a great space. There are also facilities in Nottingham at The Hopkinson Gallery and in Leicester at Fabrika. I have found that apart from the few exceptions most darkrooms are based in the south of the country. However, there are only a few darkrooms that provide regular workshops, film developing, printing facilities, products for sale and exhibition space.
What is your background in terms of photography & creative practice?
I’ve been using film since I was 15 years old when I was given a camera by my grandfather. I did an A-level in photography at college and learned basic developing and printing techniques. After that I pretty much taught myself and spent hours in the darkroom learning new skills and experimenting.
I fell into the same trap that many creatives do. I produced hundreds of prints in my spare time and kept them to myself, worried about what people would think of them. It’s only recently that I’ve plucked up the courage to display my work in local exhibitions. I feel that I’ve spent the last 13 years exploring the possibilities of traditional photography, now I feel it’s time to produce some real work and it’s great knowing I now have the space and the facilities to do it.
How are you funding the project?
Just before Christmas my mother passed away from a terminal illness at the age of 54. Before she passed away she decided that she wanted to give me the money that would have otherwise come to me after her death. I think she wanted to leave a legacy and know what the future would hold for me before she went.
When she first gave me the money I had two choices… buy a Leica camera or start a darkroom. I asked her what she thought I should do and she told me to start the darkroom. Wise words form a wise woman.
The darkroom would have been built regardless but might have taken much longer if it wasn’t for her. The Photo Parlour was built in her memory.
The build itself was all done by me with some help from my dad, my brother and my friends. Luckily, I worked in the building trade for a couple of years so I was able to put in partition walls and other structural bits and pieces myself. This cut down on the cost tremendously! If I’d have had to pay builders to come in and do it for me it would have cost a small fortune.
In my work as a photo technician at Derby college I use digital frequently and I don’t really have anything against it. I think it’s an incredible tool for commercial work and it’s transformed the way that many photojournalists, fashion photographers and studio photographers work. It also enables people to submit work almost immediately which is incredible. I must admit that I occasionally use a digital camera to check exposure before committing to a shot on film, in the same way studio photographers used to use Polaroid.
In short, digital photography is a great commercial tool. It’s quick, cheap and easy, but I still don’t think you can achieve the quality, depth and tone of a traditional print using digital methods.
How do you see the future of Analogue Photography panning out?
I belive in the future of film photography so much that I’m willing to set up a business that is dependant on it!
Can you tell us a little about FORMAT festival & how The Photo Parlour was involved?
FORMAT 13 international photography festival is one of the largest independent photography festivals in the country. It’s an honour and a privilege to have it in Derby and it is spread all over the city. It shows work from internationally renowned photographers as well as exhibiting work by local artists and people who have taken part in various workshops throughout the festival. I have been lucky enough to run workshops in conjunction with FORMAT on Pinhole Photography and Cameraless Photography. The workshops have been a massive success, so far, and I’m looking forward to running more in the future and hopefully being involved in the next FORMAT festival.
Can you recommend any good websites for traditional photography enthusiasts or enterprising creatives?
I can’t recommend the Ilford site enough! The Ilford company have been constantly putting traditional products first. They are currently setting up an “Artisan”page on their site listing Ilford approved darkrooms and tutors in which I will be included.
There are also great sites like Feature Shoot and Lens Culture which have incredible work going up everyday. I also enjoy The Film Shooters Collective who have shown me nothing but encouragement and support whilst getting The Photo Parlour running.
Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to mention Hatch’d Magazine. I know the lovely people who run it and I’ve been involved in creating content for them in the past, but without them The Photo Parlour would have little or no online presence! I’m useless with technology (hence why I’m setting up a darkroom) and social media so it’s been great to have their support online whilst setting the business up. They’ve made me realise how invaluable an online presence is!
The Photo Parlour had its grand opening on Friday April 12th from 7.30pm. We will now be running regular workshops at weekends and making the darkroom and other facilities available to hire in the evenings.
For more information go to:
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Dan for taking the time out to answer our questions. Please note all photographs are copyrighted & must not be reproduced without permission of the author.