Michel Campeau captures demise of the dark room

Canadian photographer immortalises darkrooms as monuments to the lost art of silver-based photography
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A dark room in Niamey, Niger, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series
A dark room in Niamey, Niger, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series

Dark rooms are the places where photographs are developed and printed, not shot. However, the Canadian photographer Michel Campeau has turned the lights on in dark rooms all over the world, making them the subject of his series The Demise of the Darkroom.

Treating the spaces as historical monuments to the lost art of dark-room printing, Campeau has spent the last decade documenting the quirks, disrepair and make-do nature of dark rooms across the globe 0 from Toronto, Mexico and Havana to Paris, Berlin and Brussels as well as in Niamey, Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo.

 

A dark room in Niamey, Niger, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series
A dark room in Niamey, Niger, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series

"My project, built on an observation of the decline of silver-based photography, took as its central object the dark room, rapidly deserted because of the phenomenal growth in computer technologies," Campeau says. "Both an actor in and a witness of this pivotal period in the history of art and photography, caught between analogue and digital processes, I wished to record the iconic nature of these post-industrial ruins and the remains strewn among them."

Campeau's work has received much acclaim and has been exhibited at the New York Photo Festival in Brooklyn and Les Rencontres d'Arles in France. "Most photographers have spent hours and days in that peculiar environment known as the dark room," says British photographer Martin Parr. "Campeau's photographs show the passing of an era. As digital production takes hold to a greater and greater extent, we will look back at these images and mourn the dark room's passing."

A dark room in Brussels, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series
A dark room in Brussels, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series

While Parr is resigned to the dark room's decline, the most talented dark-room practitioners, such as Magnum's printer Pablo Inirio, say that they are busier than ever, as the skills of master printers become even more rare and collectors and galleries seek the specific look of fiber paper for their prints.

 

A dark room in Mexico City, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series
A dark room in Mexico City, from Michel Campeau's The Demise of the Dark Room series

And it's not just the masters who are continuing to explore dark room printing. Young photographers such as Daisuke Yokota and Matthew Brandt are also finding new ways to push dark-room techniques and hand printing to the limit.

So, perhaps Campeau will be shooting in the dark room for sometime to come. See more of his shots here. For more on his better-known advocate, take a look at our Martin Parr books, here. And to see the results of a real master of the dark room, buy our Daido Moriyama book.


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