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Building a Pop-up Darkroom - Part 5; Come on in!

After the long preparation of my pop-up darkroom, I have started providing my first few sessions.

With a four stone tent strapped to my back I have arrived at an artist studio, a gallery and a festival to provide darkroom demos and workshops to three completely different audiences.

Supernormal - arts and music festival, Oxfordshire

My first sessions were in the blistering heat of Supernormal, an art and music festival in Oxfordshire. I have to admit that I forgot to capture any photos of the setup but this is a view looking out from the tent for what it's worth.

This was a great setup that was suitable for a walk in audience of people just looking for something creative to do in the relatively cool morning.

The first day was all about photograms and people got really into collecting plants and objects from around the site to use including a stunning ocean scene made using tobacco, toilet roll (unused) and an empty paracetamol packet.

Day two saw people making prints from digital images taken at the festival. A quick whatsapp message and we were away making prints of memories that would otherwise be lost to the smartphone gallery pit.

Festivals are a great fit for this project, bustling with a receptive audience seeking out new experiences. Definitely something I will be looking to do again in the future.


1520 Studio - Creative studios, Cheetham Hill, Manchester

Up next I went to the basement space at 1520 Studios in Cheetham Hill, Manchester to facilitate a free Introduction to Photograms workshop. Again using a kind of drop-in format, artists from the studio made time in their day to come down for half an hour to make something for free with no pressure. I met some great people and artists who made some lovely prints.

This was the first time using the overhead projector to allow people to play with their objects before making their images, it worked well as a way of introducing how light interacts with different objects to create effects and shapes.


Touchstones - Art gallery, Rochdale, Greater Manchester

Finally I set up for a two-day stint at Touchstones in Rochdale as a part of their free-for-all programme, providing free art activities for all (clue in the name).

The first afternoon was a Photogram workshop and only two of the six showed up but this just meant that more time could be spent perfecting their prints. A masterpiece arts and crafts sonic the hedgehog platform level and another inspired by magnet fishing on the Rochdale canal - so appropriate as this is where I found the bar and chain she used! The first print was a test I made to make sure the levels were right.

Day two also started with photograms and a more trial and error approach making more decorative prints.

Photograms are such an open creative activity and I love seeing individual responses unfold during these workshops. As I go along I will expand the selection of objects that I provide to assist in realising everyone’s artistic vision.

These photogram workshops attracted parents and children of several ages. They worked really well and even the parents joined in! I really enjoy running workshops with this type of audience; the questions that come out, the creations that are made and the give it a go attitude.

In the afternoon we did Printing from a Digital Source which turned out to be a one on one session due to no-shows, but again, this gave the opportunity to work on achieving a personal goal with a scenic photo of the Rochdale Canal.

Together we learned that the best photos to use are ones that have not had a high contrast added digitally as the process adds this. We created three prints and several test strips to achieve something that we were happy with using a 10 second sky burn and a yellow tint.

I love that inviting new eyes in to a process builds my knowledge of it and I’m excited to find out what else I will learn along the way.


A couple of reflections and what's up next

After the experience of running these first few sessions, I am confident in the potential of this project and can see many bespoke session ideas forming that will not only invite audiences to use a real darkroom and produce great outcomes but will be flexible enough to fit in with a number of projects and organisations.

Coming up I will be running sessions throughout September at Ebor Studio in Littleborough, Rochdale which will end with an exhibition of the amazing work everyone produces.

Find out more and get involved here.

This will also give me the chance to work on some personal projects that have been niggling in the back of my mind for a while.

After that I will be returning to the basement space at 1520 to provide a free workshop on Tuesday the 18th of October.

Now that I have completed the build of my darkroom, it's time to draw a close to the Building a Pop-Up Darkroom blog series.

I will still keep a blog of what I’m up to with the project (I am sure there will be more problems and solutions) and maybe even include other things I get up to.

If you have any questions or want to discuss a project give me an email

See you on the next one!

Maryanne xx

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