Vancouver photographer fights to keep lights on at Dunbar dark room

August Bramhoff says more than 25 different people have used the darkroom so far this year

The digital age will claim another analog victim next month if, as planned, the Dunbar Community Centre Association flicks off the lights in one of Vancouver’s last public darkrooms.

Photographer August Bramhoff says the valuable, affordable art resource should be protected. She does not want to see the community centre’s board of governors close what serves as both a classroom and printing studio.

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“We are one of the few spaces that are open in Vancouver, let alone British Columbia,” said Bramhoff, who launched an online petition at at the end of October to dispute and prevent the closure. Four weeks later, on Nov. 21, it had 53 signatures.

dunbar darkroom
The darkroom at Dunbar community centre is slated to close in December. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The amateur black and white photographer first came across the West Side darkroom nearly a decade ago, and since then, said she has put in countless volunteer hours to maintain the small space, keeping it tidy and supplied with chemicals as well as growing a modest community of users.

“There really is no darkroom space left. If we lose this space, even if it affects as few as a couple dozen people, that is one or two artists who don’t get to print for their show. That is one or two youths who don’t get to learn about film photography,” said Bramhoff, who grew up in Vancouver.

Read the update: Dunbar darkroom will shutter on Vancouver photographers

The reason for closing the darkroom is because of low attendance, Bramhoff said she was told by community centre staff. She said awareness of the darkroom is limited and that is one thing the community centre can change.

The traffic “ebbs and flows” and, this year, the darkroom has had more than 25 different users, she said. Monthly orientation sessions average four students, she added.

“The only webspace we have is through the parks board and what they give us and what the community centre allows us to put online is limited,” said Bramhoff. Fellow photographers have told her, “You guys are hard to find,” about the darkroom webpage,

The community centre informed her earlier this month that the darkroom would be closed by the end of December. She said no date was specified.

dunbar darkroom
The door to the darkroom at Dunbar community centre holds a personal message: "Steve, good luck on your next journey!" Photo Dan Toulgoet

In particular, she wants to know what will become of the small, underground and windowless room.

“No one can figure out what they are going to do with it other than turn it into a broom closet,” Bramhoff said, noting it has running water and was outfitted with good ventilation.

The Dunbar Community Centre Association president and vice-president are speaking with the Courier tomorrow. Read their comments here.

To access the darkroom, experienced film photographers can pay a 3.5-hour drop-in fee of $21.50 or purchase a month-long access pass for $55. The room is open every weekday afternoon from 2 to 9 p.m. with limited hours on weekends.

Bramhoff is paid to teach the monthly orientation so novices can learn about film processing and printing before working in the technical space. She verifies the credentials of experienced photographers so they can access the dark room without taking the orientation.

“I have classes with groups of people between the ages of 16 and 21, and they are like, tell me everything you know. I am so thrilled they come out to learn such valuable foundation skills they can transfer to their art practice and also to their life,” said Bramhoff.

The West End Community Centre also has a dark room and will be the last one of its kind at a Vancouver community centre if Dunbar closes in December.

darkroom dunbar
Two photo enlargers in the Dunbar community centre darkroom, which wil slated to close in December. Photo Dan Toulgoet

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