Interview with Dan Fontanelli of Bright Rooms
London based darkroom, Bright Rooms, opened their doors in 2018 and has since built a solid community of members, alongside offering talks, workshops and events. As one of our Kickstarter supporters, they’re hosting our ‘Brightrooms Loupe Day’, where backers will process & contact a roll of b/w film, experiment with photograms and selective development alongside the Loupe team, followed by informal portfolio reviews, and then some drinks. No prior experience required!
In this interview Lucas Birtles talks to Brightooms manager Dan Fontanelli about the resurgance of film, his ambitions with Brightrooms, and some of the talented photographers who use their facilities.
Lucas Birtles: Bright Rooms offer a range of facilities and events from studio hire, workshops and of course the darkroom itself – Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Bright Rooms and how it has all come together?
Dan Fontanelli: The growth of Bright Rooms is really down to a belief in the fundamentals of what I’m trying to achieve, and a core of committed photographers who I must mention – Noam, Imogen, Jake, Stewart, Harry & Andre. I have strong ambitions for the future of Bright Rooms and many plans to grow the business and engage in new sectors of the photography world, but wherever we go, it will remain a welcoming, accessible and passionate environment built on fresh ideas to help carry film photography into the future.
LB: You mention a strong emphasis on the future for BR – Where do you feel the film industry is currently, and what new sectors of the photography world do you plan to engage with?
DF: Have you noticed the amount of analogue references there are in big brand advertising recently? I notice it a lot from footwear to fashion and even luxury department stores. At BR I see positive signifiers all the time, BR regulars are shooting whole tours for the likes of Post Malone on film, new magazines are taking film submissions only, Freddie Stisted, BR member is shooting for Stella McCartney on film and we’ve had ads for the premiership being filmed at BR, fashion shoots happening in the darkroom, it all signifies greater awareness and positive perception in the public consciousness. Today I was teaching a pair of 15 & 17 year old cousins who had asked their parents to learn about film, so its across the board. It has to be a good sign for the industry.
I’m currently exploring new sites for BR home and abroad, discussing a collaborative photo accessories line, looking at where we can expand our digital presence and am very proactive on aligning BR with non-photographic brands where complimentary skill sets can come together on new creative collaborations. Anyone interested get in touch!
LB: I have noticed some of your dates for B&W darkroom printing have sold out – what can a complete beginner to darkrooms expect from one of these workshops?
DF: I love the idea that anyone can turn up here and we’ll have them shooting film or printing in 30 minutes. People get super fascinated with the process, so whether it’s a one off experience or the first steps on a journey, its always a time to switch off from everything else and really engage with something new (that’s really old!) There’s plenty of mythologies around the analogue world, and plenty of people who want it to be a club for those in the know, but its no big deal. All it requires is a little commitment and an understanding of the basics. After that, have fun and enjoy the fact you’re now in a world where you’ll be creating something truly unique, imbued with all the beautiful nuances of analogue photography. Oh, and you’re making something with your own hands to be handled, shared and treasured.
LB: What do you feel is driving photographers to take up film instead of relying solely on digital cameras?
DF: I think it’s everything from a basic desire to be tactile and make things with you hands through to being bored with churning out the same pixels as everyone else, and this world has certain human qualities that are missing from the digital world. There’s space for everything and one isn’t better than the other, its just nice that people can still make a choice and hopefully will be able to for a long time. People also like it because you can put so much of your own personality into the whole process, decisions over camera body, lens, film, developing technique, printing paper etc, which make the result truly unique and personal to you. There’s a ton of reasons why people come through our doors to make work but the best thing for me is that, without doubt, everyone gets on – because we all share the same passion and a common bond.
LB: Speaking about people coming through your doors, I’m aware there’s a lot of new young photographers using the facilities. That puts you in a perfect spot to witness emerging talents – Are there any particular artists this year that have caught your interest? And what kind of work are they producing?
DF: ‘Street photography’ is a wildly misused term at the moment, its vastly more than capturing an isolated moment, person or piece of architecture, it needs to have spirit, be emotive, have composition that is recognised and captured in a split second and, I believe, exist as part of a series or photobook where the photographers investigating eye draws you into a compelling narrative. Its poetic. And it takes serious dedication to putting in the hours out on the street. One of the best young photographers who has all this is Alfie White. You must also check out the work of Denisha Anderson & Ollie Trenchard.
LB: And finally, tell us about any events BR are putting on in the coming months that our readers might want to know about.
DF: The first annual BR Photo Zine Fair is on Saturday 5th October, its going to be great! We’re running workshops at Dulwich Picture Gallery which is exciting and December will see the launch of Bright Rooms Foundation, dedicated to free educational programmes and a scholarship programme.
LB: Look forward to seeing you there! Thanks for your time.
To support the magazine by taking part in our Brightrooms Loupe day, you can purchase the reward from our Kickstarter campaign here.
Luke our editor will also be at the Zine Fair so come along and say hi!
Lucas Birtles is a Bristol based photographer, writer, and poet, currently studying at the University of West of England. You can find his work at www.lucasbirtles.com and www.thequietproject.com
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