Q & A with Tom from Fox Darkroom & Gallery

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The Fox Darkroom & Gallery is a darkroom for hire and exhibition space. It promotes and celebrates photography through hands-on workshops and by exhibiting work from emerging and established artists. Established in 2014 by photographer Tom Goldner, The Fox Darkroom offers a regular program of workshops: covering manual photography, film developing and darkroom printing.

Tell us about The Fox Darkroom and how it all began

I started Fox back in 2014 out of a want to get hands-on with my photography again. I had been working professionally for 10 years and felt a bit of the magic had left the way I produced imagery. Everywhere I looked I saw people using the same cameras and producing overly manufactured imagery, it didn't feel authentic to me anymore. I decided to look back at what made me fall in love with photography in the first place - the darkroom. 

Initially, I was searching for a space to build a personal darkroom, I saw an advert online advertising a space in the Younghusband building and instantly fell in love with the building. My grandfather had such a love for antiquities that being in this space somehow reminded me of him. I felt instantly connected. I decided to build a business so I could share this incredible space with others.

Since then, Fox has grown to become much more than I anticipated. We have a wonderful community of film photographers who regularly use our facilities. Most weekends we also run workshops covering film photography, developing and darkroom printing. Fox Gallery launched in 2016 and now operates as one of the Melbourne's best photographic galleries. We have a regular program of exhibitions which are free for the public to engage with. We also run an annual photographic tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

 

What services do you offer that makes your space unique?

Our entire offering at Fox is small, personalised and unique. Our workshops cater for groups of 3-5 so we can fully engage with and get to know our audience, we wouldn't want it any other way. Running a darkroom in 2018 is also somewhat unique. Some of the photographic techniques we teach date as far back as the 18th century (tin-type collodion). Being able to learn these traditional processes in such a historical building really adds some magic for our participants. I might be biased but I think our workshop space is the sweetest spot in the building.

It is pretty special showing people you can make beautiful works of art from a 30-year-old camera which often also holds sentimental value.

You offer a number of workshops, one in particular on film and developing. Do you find there has been a strong resurgence of interest in film photography in the digital age? Why do you think that is?

When I built Fox I had no idea so many people were wanting to engage with traditional methods of photography again. Our workshop participants range from complete novices right through to professional photographers. Surprisingly, many of our customers have never taken a photograph on film until they join a workshop. They are truly from all walks of life. At the beginning of each workshop, we ask our participants why they have booked into a film photography and developing workshop in 2018. The most common answer we hear is they want to slow down and be more considerate with photography. Many of the people who visit us have discovered a long forgotten camera which belonged to a family member. It is pretty special showing people you can make beautiful works of art from a 30-year-old camera which often also holds sentimental value.

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It was a powerful experience having an audience engaging with such important work. Every exhibition is unique.

Do you draw inspiration from working within such a historic environment as the Younghusband building? What does this bring to your business and practice?

Every day I arrive at Fox and open my door to the laneway I feel inspired. I get to spend my working days watching the light and the weather shift along the curved red brick of the building. I'm a visual person so being inspired this way is a real luxury. Being able to collaborate with other creatives within the building is another part of why I love YH so much.

Tell us about your gallery space and the type of exhibitions that you hold.

Fox Gallery hosts a range of photographic exhibitions from both established and emerging photographers from Australia and beyond. The gallery is a platform for the public to engage with photographic works. We have exhibited a number of long-term documentary projects. Some standouts have been Matthew Abbott's 'The Land Where The Crow Flies Backwards', Tobias Titz 'Polaroids 1998 - 2018' and more recently the work of Paul Blackmore's 'Australians'. We have also exhibited some incredible emerging artists. Local photography John Umina exhibited his 'Outliers' series with us in 2016, later this year we are hosting a debut exhibition with Fox member Nick Hinch. In March this year, we hosted an exhibition of Brian Cassey's photographs covering the recent abandonment of Manus Island Detention Centre by the Australian Government. It was a powerful experience having an audience engaging with such important work. Every exhibition is unique.

What’s the best way aspiring photographers can get involved with The Fox Darkroom?

Our next international workshop takes place in Siem Reap, Cambodia in November this year. Again, we welcome all levels of experience on this tour.

It's easy to get involved at Fox. Join a workshop, attend an exhibition opening or an artist talk or tap into our membership base. We welcome all skill levels here and you won't find a shred of ego.

When is your next international workshop? Tell us about the experience and what amateur and professional photographers gain from this opportunity?

This is my favourite thing to talk about! Our next international workshop takes place in Siem Reap, Cambodia in November this year. Again, we welcome all levels of experience on this tour. Our workshop is designed to get people off the beaten path and experience Cambodia beyond tourist attractions. The course consists of personalised assignment-based learning, group assignments and in-depth conversations designed to provide participants a deeper understanding of their photographic practice. It is such a special part of our offering at Fox.
 

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Tell us a bit more about your community in the space. Are there regular residents working from the space as well as public members for workshops?

We have such a fantastic community of members attached to Fox. They can come in and use our facilities to develop film, print in the darkroom or scan. We also have a number of social functions such a movie nights in the gallery and of course all the fun at exhibition openings. Our community is at the heart of all we do here at Fox. Our doors are open to everybody.

What can the public access through your annual membership?

Buying into the membership allows you to tap into the discounted hourly rate and tap into our community. Our members sell and lend each other equipment, head away on photography trips together and receive discounts on a number of our programs. Cost is $95 per year.

Tell us about your own personal photography practice. What is your focus?

I have worked on a number of long-term photographic projects over the past 10 years predominately focusing on photo-documentary. My early work explored the idea of using photography to effect social change. Last year I exhibited my 'Passage' series. A number of atmospheric black and white landscapes prints I produced over two expeditions in Tour du Mont Blanc in France, Italy and Switzerland. The entire series was produced in the darkroom here at Fox by hand. Currently I am working on a new project 'Of the Sea'. The work explores humankind's ancient and changing relationship with the ocean. I will be showing a portion of this work either later this year or early 2019.

The power of photography is palpable, thinking of images like the Afghan Girl or Phan Thị Kim Phúc’s images of the Vietnam war, what image throughout history has caught and held your attention and why?

As powerful as both of those images are I am really focused on contemporary documentary photography, particularly from what is coming out of Australia. I think more than ever photographers need to find ways to allow the subject to be part of the process. Our recent exhibition showcasing Tobias' Titz 'Polaroid Project' encapsulates this beautifully for me. The project is so perfectly conceptualised, the subjects leaves their own mark or message on the image and the photography is stunning.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers that want to have their images seen?

One thing all my favourite photographers have in common is the way in which they analyse their work. Take the time to ask yourself why. For me, the best projects are the ones that take time.

Can you give us a local insiders’ tip to the Kensington area? Do you have a favourite restaurant, bar or place of inspiration?

It is hard to go past the food at the Premises and the beer at Henry St Brewery!

 

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Amalia Ridwan