• The Fox Darkroom

Reinvigorating Hands-on Photography

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From international photography tours to workshops and gallery exhibitions, Melbourne’s Fox Darkroom & Gallery takes the best of photography’s past and presents it with a modern twist.

Words by Hudson Brown

Photography by The Fox Darkroom and Gallery

Named after legendary photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot, The Fox Darkroom & Gallery strikes the balance between the roots of photography and its contemporary possibilities. Situated in a historic wool store in Melbourne’s inner west suburb of Kensington, the business started as a way for founder Tom Goldner to take his own photography practice back to the darkroom after a decade away from it.

The Fox Darkroom

“For whatever reason, I felt the urge to get back in [the darkroom] and start working with my hands again. I looked around at what was available but everything out there didn’t really fit with where I was hoping to spend time and create my work,” explains Goldner.

Living in a small inner-city home with no chance to retrofit a darkroom, he decided to find somewhere else to build the perfect space to develop his work. In 2014, when he came across the Younghusband wool store, Goldner instantly knew it was the place.

“There was a space available in the building, but I realised pretty quickly that it was going to be too big and too expensive to be more than just my personal darkroom,” Goldner says. “I decided to start shaping my idea into a business, although I wasn’t really connected with the film community so I wasn’t sure if anyone else would be interested. I really didn’t know if other people had that itch to get back in the darkroom or to learn traditional processes again.”

The Fox DarkroomThe Fox DarkroomThe Fox Darkroom

“It’s always really exciting that there are more darkrooms and photo labs opening, but for us, it doesn’t just end there. It’s more about tapping into your creative process and making the art form of film photography as meaningful as possible”

However, it didn’t take long for Fox Darkroom & Gallery to establish itself as one of the city’s mainstay darkrooms and photographic hubs. Supported by Melbourne’s strong creative community, which has embraced the massive re-emergence of analog photography, Goldner says it was important for his budding business not to get swept up in the trend of it all. Instead, he wanted to focus on the fact that working with film has always had an important role in contemporary art and photography.

“It’s always really exciting that there are more darkrooms and photo labs opening, but for us, it doesn’t just end there. It’s more about tapping into your creative process and making the art form of film photography as meaningful as possible,” says Goldner. “That always trumps any kind of camera or film brand that you use.”

The Fox Darkroom

“There are such a lot of people out there that are really seeking ways to get more hands-on with their photography. It’s awesome that we’re able to show the next generation of photographers how it was done in the past, but also how these skills remain relevant in today’s world of photography”

The still growing grassroots community around The Fox Darkroom has been key to the business’ success. Having featured a range of Australia’s leading film photographers through gallery exhibitions, photobook launches and discussions, Goldner believes that the strength of the place relies on its welcoming of newcomers, who actively share and learn through the darkroom’s array of workshops and events.

“There are such a lot of people out there that are really seeking ways to get more hands-on with their photography. It’s awesome that we’re able to show the next generation of photographers how it was done in the past, but also how these skills remain relevant in today’s world of photography,” Goldner says. “I think that’s a different approach compared to other places who teach. We’re not relying on just the traditional way of doing things, but also educating on the contemporary uses of film and printing in photography.”

Across a myriad of workshops that range from darkroom basics and tintype processing to shooting with large format 4×5 cameras, each of the last five years has seen Fox Darkroom host a Cambodian international photography tour. Undoubtedly the highlight of Tom’s year, the tour taps into the best aspects of travelling, while also offering visitors a chance to produce some exciting work along the way.

“Some of the people that join the tour are really experienced and have produced amazing work. But then we also have people who are new to photography and would be too shy to call themselves photographers because they are just doing it for their own reasons rather than professionally,” Goldner says.

The tour works alongside groups of local Cambodians as the experienced photographers on the trip work towards honing various themes or projects that they are working on. Meanwhile, Goldner heads along to assist the novices on the adventure as he helps focus their attention with frequent image reviews and reflections in an effort to direct their creativity and make them better photographers moving forward.

With the next overseas journey on the horizon in November, the business has recently entered its next landmark chapter as much of the Younghusband building has undergone a large-scale facelift. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The new and improved space has allowed Fox Darkroom & Gallery to expand its darkroom offering, while also building on the potential of its workshops. There’s now also the opportunity for them to begin offering three-month artist residencies for the first time.

The Fox DarkroomThe Fox DarkroomThe Fox Darkroom

“The residencies are designed for people who are looking to create a body of work, like an exhibition or a book,” explains Goldner. “They will have access to everything an artist needs, such as the darkroom, the developing gear, the scanners, office space, mentorship – essentially everything that they need to finish their project.”

The Fox Darkroom & Gallery has also just completed the process of signing a seven-year lease, with an option for three more. Rarely possible in the world of creative businesses, especially those involving darkrooms and art galleries, Goldner considers this a huge success.

“We’re really in it for the long haul, which is pretty unusual for a creative business. It’s pretty strange trying to imagine what the place is going to be like in 10 years,” Goldner laughs, “but it’s really exciting to have the stability and a vision for that.”

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Hudson Brown

Hudson Brown is a Melbourne-based freelance writer when he's not travelling the globe. His words have been featured in the likes of SBS Food, Treadlie Magazine and Paper Sea Quarterly, while he was previously the editorial assistant for small footprint living publication Assemble Papers. He is also a regular contributor to Concrete Playground where he covers the latest art, culture and gastronomic happenings around town.