Darkroom – Ilona Schneider

Darkroom – Ilona Schneider

My passion for the darkroom started in my apprenticeship as a photographer in aphoto studio in Salzburg, Austria, in the early 80’s. It was an elegant portrait studio on the second floor of a monumental building in the old part city, with high ceilings and French doors to the small portrait studio and a darkroom at the back. We mixed all our own chemistry from scratch and had our own formulas for it. Chemicals were readily available at any Chemist. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom, especially in the first and second year of my apprenticeship. We did also a lot of press jobs for the magistrate, government, and local newspapers.  I learned printing by watching my boss going through a roll of 36 images within the hour. No proof sheets where taken, except for portrait sessions. He decided just by looking at the negative how long it would have to be exposed, and with both hands he created a little funnel to burn parts of the image or waving off light where it was too dark and needed less development. Most jobs were for the press and had to be delivered within hours. Black and white only. Apart from press jobs, we also did a lot of reproductions of people’s old photographs, which were also done in the darkroom with the Leitz enlarger. I often spent days in the darkroom, listening to the radio while I was working away in that red/green light and I loved it.

Although I worked mostly with digital cameras in my professional life, I never gave up analog photography. I made space for a darkroom in almost every house I lived in, no matter how small. When I moved to Australia in 1994, everything was still analogue film, but the commercial photographers’ world had moved on to colour transparencies. In my personal work, I continued working in Black and White mostly in medium and large format. I just loved working with film.

My current darkroom is in our garage on the ground floor of our house. It is the best darkroom I have ever made. It has 3 enlargers: Agfa Varioscope up to 6×7, a DeVere 504 up to 4×5, and a Laboratory 138s that enlarges negatives up to 5×7 for BW. I also have two UV exposure units and contact printing frames up to 11×14 for contact printing. I also have an JOBO ATL 1 and started to do my own colour processing: C41 and E6 from 35mm up to 4×5. Most equipment was given to me over the years by institutions and photographers that sadly gave up their darkroom. This is how I got a fabulous collection of darkroom equipment in over 20 years. It is a constantly evolving place. My photographer friend Kevin Frost, who is also a woodworker, built all the furniture for it and also the UV exposure unit and the repro camera to photograph negatives. 

I set up the darkroom as a teaching space with a big worktable in the middle. I love teaching people about film. Every so often I have photographers and analogue film makers from interstate come to Tasmania to hold workshops in my darkroom, such as Gordon Undy from Sydney, who gave one of his famous Platinum printing workshops here and Andy Moneghittie who did a gum bichromate workshop. I myself teach processing and printing.

In 2016, I was introduced to 16mm film at a course I did at the Salzburg Summer Academy. I was hooked straight away. Making film with 4000 images on a 100ft film was another dimension of image making. So, these days I also process 8/16mm film, 100ft film C41 and E6, hand processed. I have three 16mm Lomo processing tanks, splicers, and drying racks, plus projectors for copying film. I am a member of the AFW (Artist Film Workshop) and Richard Touhy and Dianna Barry, from Nano Lab, regularly come from Victoria to teach experimental film making.

Next to the darkroom, downstairs, is an artist residency studio-apartment for the people who come to Tasmania to give a workshop at TopSpace Studio or in the Darkroom, or create their own photographic work. I enjoy the exchange with other photographic artists, and it is always a pleasure having people with their own expertise working here. I also have a studio in the CBD of Hobart where I teach photography and hold workshops, talks and seminars on photography. Every so often I hold exhibitions there. This year we held our first (three day long) ‘Zero Pixel Film Festival’ in the studio with expanded cinema (3 projectors) and a 7,5m home-made screen. I enjoy sharing those spaces with other photographic and analogue film artists, maintaining a hub where photography can be seen, explored, and discussed.

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Ilona Schneider is a Hobart based photographer.

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