Shot in the Dark Café seemed like the perfect place to talk with Patrick McArdle (a former Tucson Weekly intern) about his new project, Digital Downtown Darkroom. On the walls of the café hangs Dog Soldier and Wolf ... From the Fifth World, a new show that includes rusted car hoods, fenders and such adorned with photos by McArdle and paintings by his wife, To-Ree-Nee Wolf. The show ends June 9 with a closing reception from 7 to 9 p.m. at the café, 121 E. Broadway Blvd. The Digital Downtown Darkroom is at 735 N. Alder Ave. For more on the darkroom, search for it on Facebook, or visit their website.
Tell me about Digital Downtown Darkroom.
I wanted to set it up so it's a community darkroom that has resources for anyone interested in traditional photography, digital photography, and sometimes incorporating the two. What I am realizing is that digital and traditional haven't touched each other too much, other than taking a negative and scanning it. I wanted to create a community space for those two endeavors, and for those to merge together creatively.
Are you getting a lot of interest?
There are some folks who use it on a regular basis—one who is a traditional photographer, and one who is learning from the very beginning. That's fun and exciting to watch. Really, I am just starting to get the word out and get more people involved.
Do you want this to turn into a membership organization?
Not right now. I know I don't want to set it up as a for-profit. (I want it to) be a community-based situation and ultimately do a nonprofit with it. But I'm in no hurry. I'm having fun.
What do you have at the darkroom?
I have six functional enlargers. It's a very good space with a nice lounging area, and then the digital production area. In the last month or so, I've kept hearing the phrase "digital darkroom." What we have is a high-end professional printer, and the computer, scanner and equipment that's involved with digital photography—software programs. Right now, it's my own computer. There's a printer and scanner, so if someone has a laptop, I can work with them to print stuff and scan stuff.
When you talk about merging the two mediums creatively, what do you mean?
Right now, I'm working with an old Brownie camera. My intention is to process the film, then scan it. And from a scan, I want to make a print from an ink jet (printer), and then take that print and photograph it with a film camera, and process that film and see what happens. That's just my own idea and my own approach; I'm sure the more I think about it, the more ideas I'll come up with. And others who come to the darkroom will have their own ideas. There's a lot of exploring.
How will the project support itself?
First, I really want to reach out and get people in, and I don't want to charge anyone. I'm taking most of the cost. I provide chemicals; they just have to provide the paper. If someone wants to make a donation, great, but right now, I like the aspect of bringing people together to learn and share.
I miss going into a darkroom.
I hear that from a lot of people. A lot of people miss out on that opportunity to be creative. With digital cameras, we don't always get to experience that anymore. There used to be this sixth sense of taking photos and developing them. Now, with digital, it's a shotgun approach. There are digital photos that win Pulitzers or go viral—those things happen—but often, it's not a great photograph.
So you're going to have classes?
Yes, the first one is going to be how to put the film on the reel and roll it up (to develop negatives). We'll have snacks and coffee, and roll the film on the reel. When they get past that, then they can do something else. I've taught classes in the past. I'm not going to do a lot of history. It's about: "This is film. These are the chemicals, and this is an enlarger. Let's get in there, and get you printing." It's really gratifying to see the students make their first print. After 20 minutes in there, they don't want to talk to me. They just want me to leave them alone.