Britain's darkroom suppliers have vented their anger at comments by Ilford Photo which suggested the days of the traditional home-based darkroom are over.

Page One: ‘Darkroom is not dead’

Death of darkroomBritain’s darkroom suppliers have vented their anger at comments by Ilford Photo which suggested the days of the traditional home-based darkroom are over.

Earlier this month, Ilford Photo’s sales director Steven Brierley told Amateur Photographer (AP) that use of traditional home-based darkrooms among photographic enthusiasts ‘has gone’.

In an interview, he added that interest from photographic colleges is ‘very robust’ – boosted by an interest in people enrolling for photography evening classes.

However, Brierley’s comments provoked an angry reaction from darkroom equipment suppliers prompting him to issue a follow-up statement to clarify his remarks.

Three UK-based providers wrote to AP, insisting that the home-based darkroom is alive and kicking.

Clare Harvey-May, manager of Hertfordshire-based retailer RK Photographic, said: ‘With more and more people taking advantage of very cheap enlargers and darkroom equipment now available in abundance on the second-hand market, many students – young and mature – are looking to set up home darkrooms, or to at least develop black & white negatives and then scan them digitally.’

Harvey-May said there has been a revival in specialist papers. ‘We want your readers to know that, as specialist photographic retailers dealing in digital and darkroom products, we will not desert them. In fact, it is just the opposite.’

Rodney Bates, sales director for Firstcall Photographic in Somerset, told us: ‘While education is important to the darkroom market, our experience shows that 40% of darkroom sales relate to private darkroom enthusiast sales. It is our experience that shows this sector has actually increased in the past 12 months.’

Bates, who imports LPL and Jobo products, said that new darkrooms are still being built in ‘healthy numbers’ – some people having been inspired after taking an evening class.

Martin Reed, managing director of London-based Silverprint said: ‘While it is true that professional traditional usage has fallen away, the missing percentage has been more than compensated for by the increases in the other two areas [educational and amateur].

‘And this year we have experienced modest growth, something of an achievement in a recession year.’

‘Upswell in enthusiasm’

Reed said that, in the past year or two, there has been a ‘great upswell in enthusiasm’ in areas such as pinhole imagery.

‘It seems a peculiarly British disease, attempting to eradicate something simply because it?s regarded as unfashionable, and most of the press are guilty to some extent.’

As a minority, photo traditionalists have been forced into becoming an ‘underground culture’, he claimed.

‘We know that a properly produced fibre-based print will last for at least 150 years – it?s a very long way indeed before we can be sure that any digital print will possess similar longevity.’

Harvey-May added: ‘We sell huge amounts of inkjet paper and are very much behind the digital age but this knowledge and service has been built on, and alongside, the traditional methods and we have always felt that they go hand in hand.’

STORY CONTINUES HERE

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Page Two: Ilford Photo issues fresh statement

The fury today moved Ilford Photo to expand on its position.

In a statement, issued to AP this afternoon, Brierley said Ilford Photo believes that a ‘large proportion’ of people still choose to print at home, but are turning to Ilford Photo’s ‘Lab Direct’ mail-order service to process their films.

Brierley added: ‘There remains a significant number of people who process film and print photographs in their home darkroom, of course, and we will continue to support this with llford Photo products and services. Darkroom printing is certainly very strong in colleges across the country, which will continue to ensure the future of darkroom printing at home.’

He continued: ‘The uplift in demand for our processing services does not suggest to us that darkroom printing will disappear, but it does indicate that some behaviours are changing amongst the photography community and it is important we look at these growing trends to ensure we’re providing the products and services that photographers need.’

Two years ago Ilford Photo highlighted the dangers of losing the traditional photographic darkroom and neglecting film-based photography in a campaign called ‘Defend the Darkroom’.

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