Photo by Jack Hallinan | Ryan Farmer in his personal darkroom, where he has been processing and scanning film for customers

Ferndale locals open community darkroom

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by Jack Hallinan

Artists Ryan Farmer and Samm Melton plan to fill the void of community-accessible darkrooms in Humboldt County with a photography studio based out of Ferndale. Their goal is to provide a space which will serve as both an educational and communal studio for photographers working with film, as well as a rentable darkroom for independent artists.

“We know that it’s not going to be perfect for everything, but it is going to be a spot that people can learn,” said Farmer as he navigated the space. “We can do classes, we can talk about the concepts of everything, and then if somebody has their own personal projects or product photography, any sort of thing that they need a studio space, they can rent it out.” 

 The studio will be based out of the garage in the Main Street building that Farmer and Melton currently work out of. While the space is limited, the artists aim to meet the demands of the local photography community. The facility will contain a small studio, a gallery and a darkroom.

For artists working within the medium of analog photography in Humboldt County, resources such as studio spaces and film supply stores have been scarce. Working with film photography necessitates the use of a darkroom, a space which requires complete darkness, ventilation, and the use of film processing chemicals, factors which make it extremely difficult for photographers to practice their art at home independently. 

While there is an on-campus photography lab and darkroom at Cal Poly Humboldt, these resources are accessible only to students enrolled in photography classes. This has historically served as one of the only functioning analog photography studios in the county.

Another major focus for Farmer and Melton is sustainability. The chemicals that are used for film development, such as developer, are not environmentally friendly, and they hope to reduce their environmental footprint by exploring more sustainable methods of film processing. 

“There’s a lot of potential in creating developers that are plant-based, as well as using things like coffee grounds to break down developers,” Farmer said. “Where we’re located thankfully has a lot of water at the end of the Eel River Valley, and a community of ecologically minded people that are supporting us, whether that be providing the wood to make box cameras, or the gardens to grow plants for chemistry. With analog photography comes a large bit of waste, and we know that it’s important to think of the future and lower that footprint.” 

Farmer and Melton are taking both locals and traveling artists into account when establishing prices for use of the darkroom.

 “We’ve talked about offering the ability to be a part of a membership that will provide a significant discount on the hourly rentals of the darkroom space, or for people that are passing through the area to be able to just rent it out as a one-time deal,” Farmer said. “So it not only supports local people that wanna use it regularly, but people that are passing through and have a use for either a professional studio or the darkroom.” 

Farmer and Melton hope to have their darkroom available to the public in the coming months. In the meantime, they are providing film processing and scanning services, including color film, through their personal studio located in the Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge on Main Street.

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