life in new york isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone. when i’m back home in virginia and i run into someone who tells me, “you know, new york is a nice place to visit, but i wouldn’t want to live there!” patting me on the shoulder as they smile proudly. my response is always outwardly sweet, but inside i say awesome, visit then! but stay here. settle in. what we don’t need here is anyone who doesn’t have that hustle in their hearts, that pulsing blood running through their veins so that they wake up with every morning saying GO! make! create! breathe! and then have some cocktails! make some bad decisions! live.
this city is not for the weak at heart, it’s for the dreamers and the makers and the doers and believers. and thus, despite its many, constant challenges, we are immensely lucky to live in a community of such creatively elevated humans. i love that the question, “what do you do?” is constantly met with, “oh, like for money? or my side hustle/creative endeavor/small business/clandestine life?” we see challenges every day and say, i’m going to figure out how to make this work, and make it work for me. and goddamn if that energy isn’t in every molecule of air here in brooklyn, so breathe it in, and hold it there. (unless you’re real close to the gowanus canal, then just save that inspiring inhale for later.)
i’ve met so many people here for whom simply creating is not enough. through all of the resistance you run into when trying to follow your passion in this city – spacial issues, financial constraints, the haters hatin’… if you push through and learn to overcome those barriers, then maintain that path to make the way a bit easier for others.
we all know that a lot of bad things are created and discovered in brooklyn basements, but for photographer and creative hustler lucia rollow, her ability to follow her dreams started in a subterranean brooklyn space. after graduating from college with a degree in photography and moving to the city, she was quickly disheartened to realize that her passion and energy for everything that happens after the shutter clicks would be silenced with her relocation. there were no darkrooms for public use, and sure as hell no space to create one. she managed to make a makeshift darkroom in a basement in brooklyn for her own personal use, and once the word of it spread from her creative circle into others, she began renting it out for use. as it turned out, she was far from the only person craving the creative freedom that developing your own film and photos provides.
this basement venture has since evolved into a gift to the community; a space for those in love with analog photography to drop off and have their film developed by people who care, a space for people who truly love the craft of developing film and prints to use, a gallery for established and budding photographers alike, and a classroom for those who want to embrace this craft at every level. this 2,500 foot and 25-member warehouse space has created a photography community, which is what drew manager natalia gubinski to the space. she had been craving that sense of community that is so inherent to the world of photo development, as well as an affordable darkroom to use after leaving college. see some of her beautiful work here, and be sure to sign up for BCD’s emails about upcoming events to see hers and other artists’ work and to be a part of this beautiful community.
having recently participated in a cyanotype workshop at BCD, and found myself sitting outside on the sidewalk in the sun, waiting to see what kind of abstract prints we developed with funky trinkets from the menagerie and minds of the endlessly inspiring @noelleduquette and @donutloverr. we sat and chatted while the springtime sun made surreal indigo landscapes around shadows of plastic babies, fresh lemon slices, hardware ephemera and pressed flora to the curious negligence of passersby. after rinsing, squeegeeing (ah! gonna say it again… squeegeeing.), and critiquing our work before running out to create something new, i realized a few things; that slowing down any craft that has now become technologically lost is both therapeautic and necessary, that pursuing your passion fearlessly will naturally attract a creative community and support system to surround you, and that the necessity to create can then develop into a destination that anyone can share.
Bushwick Community Darkroom represents the beauty of process and community. slowly combating the requisite and relatively temporary paralysis of instagram filter indecision, it embraces the beauty of creation that happens after the shutter clicks and brings back a sense of ownership that’s been lost in our image-obsessed society. you own the print that you hold in your hand, one that you show people without swiping or uploading. and it represents the beauty that can grow out of the passionate hustle.
I had the unique opportunity to interview Lucia Rollow, avid photographer and BCD’s founder and owner, to dive into just how she turned her dream into a 2,500 foot warehouse space and gift to the community. seek insipration below, and then head to Bushick Community Darkroom to get some film developed, go learn how to develop it yourself. go check out a gallery opening for some of the incredible artists in our community. go for free movie night. go and be among the community that surrounds this beautiful art.
What attracted you to pursue photography in the first place?
I got my first camera when I was about 4 and started working in the darkroom when I was about 12 and it all just fit. It was just something that had to be there.
How did you try to seek out options for dark rooms and developing when you got to NY? What were the options at that time?
I moved to New York in 2005 to attend the School of Visual Arts so I was using their darkrooms till 2009 and mostly unaware of any other options because I had no need. After I graduated I lost that darkroom access as one does and spent the next roughly year floating around trying to find affordable darkrooms without much success. I spoke to people I knew and looked online and found Printspace but decided I couldn’t afford their $22/hr rate in addition to paper, then I found a space near me but no one ever seemed to be there to open it and they said they didn’t supply chemistry so I started going to ABC No Rio. Their scheduled open hours were incompatible with my schedule at the time and it was a 45 minute trip each way. So one day my neighbor pointed out to me that there were storage closets in the basement that were totally big enough to put a single occupancy b&w darkroom in, since that was all i really needed and i had no money at the time my mind immediately went to 2 problems: how do i make this a reality as quickly and cheaply as possible? and is there a way for me to make this available to other people that might be in the same position i am?
Describe the makeshift darkroom you made in your apartment, and the first experiences you had there. I believe Natalia mentioned you would let other people use it?
I ran a kickstarter, built a website & started posting flyers. We met the kickstarter goal, built out the space & opened in the basement in February 2011. The original space was a 6×8 closet in the basement next to the laundry room. We set up a sink/print washer & dryer in the laundry room and enlarger/chemical trays in the closet which we could make light tight. It was definitely cozy but it was pretty comfortable for up to 2 people and you could print up to 16×20 in there so for what it was it definitely wasn’t bad. We got to the point where we were booked to capacity and a gentleman (Brandon Schulman) donated 2 color enlargers and a table top color print processor to us so we started looking for bigger spaces. In the summer of 2012 we moved into the first of what would be 2 spaces we occupied within the Shops at the Loom and built out a small b&w darkroom with 4 enlargers and a small color darkroom with 2 enlargers and the table top processor we had been gifted. In the summer of 2013 we relocated across the hall in the Shops at the Loom and had basically the same set up in a slightly better/cheaper layout. December of 2013 brought us a huge donation when Printspace shut down their community darkrooms and gave us all of their enlargers, color print processor and basically all the other crap besides their sinks. So I put it all in storage and started looking for a space that was big enough to set up all the equipment to be functional
How did you find the space that is now BCD?
I started looking and saving and scheming and dreaming. I was having conversations and looking on Craigslist and trying to find spaces as for all of 2014. By the end of the year I had uncovered a lead a few blocks from our existing location. The space was about 1000 square feet on the second floor of a tucked away block in a windowless room. The freight elevator came straight into the space but that was the only advantage. So I mulled on it and engaged in conversation with the landlord and basically was within 48 hours of signing the lease and putting down a deposit when i decided to just take one more look on Craigslist. I went ~3 weeks back through the listings, found this place, figured the worst they would tell me was that the space had been rented and sent them an email. They immediately responded that the space was still available so Caleb, who has been volunteering for me since 2013 and I came over and checked it out and basically agreed to it on the spot. We signed the lease a few days later, spent the next 6 months building out the space and have been settling in ever since.
What are the challenges you’ve met along the way (from your arrival in NY to now!) and how did you overcome them?
Most of the challenges have really involved finding adequate space for an affordable price. Since we’ve re-located to this space our rent has been consistent and we have been able to focus on smaller problems like making sure we have enough chemistry and our equipment is up to par. Finding this space really allowed us to improve the quality of service we have been able to provide.
Can you describe a specific time where you felt like giving up? What encouraged you to push forward?
There have definitely been a lot of times. There was a moment last year when we thought the owner might sell this building and it was definitely like “what do we do?!” as a result we actually still/currently have a tiny little satellite location in Greenpoint that no one knows about. It became very clear very quickly at that point that there were too many people far too invested to give up or consider closing the darkroom so we kept pushing and the owner has since renewed our lease on this space and given us assurances that he is not planning on selling the building.
How would you describe your art?
Currently I’m working on a series of landscape gum bichromate prints which is an antique process.
Have their been any artists you’ve run into along the way that were particularly moving or inspiring that helped you persevere?
My good friend Hope Zanes has been a pillar for me over the years. She taught me gum printing in high school and has been in my corner ever since.
What are your goals for BCD for the next year?
Over the next year we plan to focus on increasing our programatic offerings and membership base. We have a stable home now and would like to invite as many people in to do as many different fun things as possible.
To visit the Bushwick Community Darkroom, find them at 110 troutman st.
visit their website for a list of classes, rates for use of the space, and membership information.
and for constant photographic inspiration and event announcements, follow them on instagram.