Visiting The Portland Darkroom, 25 May 2022

Ships at night. Lower Albina at the Willamette River, 25 May 2022. Olympus 35RD/Ilford HP5+/Ilfosol 3 1:9/5:30 in Rondinax 35U

I’ve mentioned before how lucky it is that I decided to get back into film photography while living here in Portland. In other cities you may be lucky to get some Superia 400 from Rite Aid, forget about local film finishing. Here in Portland we have four local labs: Citizens, The Shutterbug, Pro Photo, and Blue Moon. All of these places sell film, too. I don’t have to buy my film online, nor do I need to send my film out for developing. This is great, obviously, though there was one drawback: The ease of processing meant that it took me longer to get into home development.

And there’s another perk to Portland’s photography scene: A community darkroom. Named appropriately enough The Portland Darkroom, it’s a non-profit, membership-based community darkroom resource. There’s a limited amount of memberships available, but they had a weekly Open Darkroom on Wednesdays, where for a nominal fee one could come in and develop and/or print their own stuff.

The idea of The Portland Darkroom sounded cool when I first heard about it. But of course, I first heard about it when pandemic hit. The Portland Darkroom closed down to the public, just being opened for its members. It wasn’t until this April when they decided to do an Open Darkroom again, and now on a monthly basis.

While I just started to develop my own film, printing is a whole ‘nother realm. I wasn’t ready to jump into that, but they said it was okay to visit. I missed the April session, so I made sure to head down to the next one on Wednesday May 25th. The Darkroom is located in the North Coast Seed Building in the Lower Albina Industrial District. The North Coast Seed Building is a former warehouse which rents out loft space to businesses and creatives. This kind of thing was so common when I moved to Portland twenty years ago, there were so many places like it scattered around the industrial zones ringing the river. Now they are scarce, so it was nice seeing something like this still around.

When I arrived to the darkroom I found a bunch of people hanging out inside. There was one guy in the actual darkroom making prints, and a few people were scanning negatives. But it was mostly hanging out time, and I understand why: After the social isolation of the past couple years, it’s just nice to be amongst other folks. The Darkroom was chock-a-block with everything needed for development, scanning, and printing of black and white film. And they also had a great library of photography books, magazines, and zines. (Of course I donated my photo-zines to it!) But the best part was seeing the community aspect and knowing there’s other people out there still interested in film photography.

Will I be back? Sure. But I don’t know exactly when. I need to learn how to print before I can really utilize the space. The Portland Darkroom isn’t offering classes at this point. I am lucky that there are other spaces in town that do, like Portland Community College. They have a non-credit darkroom course that they run every quarter. I missed my chance to get into the summer program, as the eight available spots filled up in an instant. I’ll be keeping my eye out for fall semester…

Portland Darkroom in North Coast Seed Building. 25 May 2022
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5 thoughts on “Visiting The Portland Darkroom, 25 May 2022

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  1. we have a similar setup here closer to the city but it’s too far for me unfortunately! I hope you manage to get into a course soon though so you’ll be more confident printing! looking forward to your updates ~

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