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Photography in Notts: The Photo Parlour

8 March 18 words: Alex Kuster
photos: Alex Kuster

Ah, film photography. Somewhat romanticised in this day and age, innit? With phone cameras getting better and better, it makes you wonder if people use the format anymore. But don’t fret, member of the Notts populace, the trade is not lost...

Hidden near the train station, up several flights of stairs, lies one of Nottingham’s very own flag flyers: The Photo Parlour. And what a gem it is. We spoke to owner, Dan Wheeler, and followed him round for the day to learn how to develop photos, and to find out just what the organisation brings to Notts…

Light streams in from every which way. Cameras galore. Prints hang on the walls, so beautiful they’ll take your breath away. The Photo Parlour is a cornucopia of all things photography. There’s something truly magical about the place, something I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the view over the city, perhaps it’s Dan’s raw passion and charm, or perhaps it’s the curiosity and anticipation of learning more about capturing moments in the “old-school” way.

I took an old Olympus Trip 35mm camera – very user-friendly for a complete newbie like myself – and documented a few months, completely unaware of whether what I was doing was working or how my shots would turn out. I visited Dan to learn how to process the film by hand with an abundance of machines, all salvaged from years past.

Dan has always been a lover of photography, having previously taught media at Derby College as well as running a community darkroom in the same city. One day, he was approached by a fellow photographer, Mick Payne, who offered him the space he currently occupies. “I mean, how would you feel if someone turned to you and said, ‘Hey, would you like to buy my business?’ I was utterly shocked,” says Dan.

Having been warned that if he saw it, he’d have to have it, Dan viewed the space, quit his job, got a bank loan and took on the project.

In the Parlour, there’s a fully equipped, professional black-and-white darkroom where you can print from a variety of film. People are always coming in and out; once you know how to use the facilities you can drop in whenever you like and develop photos.

The Parlour hosts workshops for all abilities, and Dan likes to cap them at around six people, so you take loads away from them. One he’s particularly excited about is with John Blakemore, or “Photography Yoda” as Dan calls him. Other workshops include introductory-level sessions and pinhole workshops.

We headed into the colour darkroom, mapped out by smatterings of glow-in-the-dark dots to help navigate. Good job, because I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Dan, a seasoned pro, worked happily away; testing strips of paper and checking the colors on his Back to The Future-esque machines. I felt like Charlie in the – albeit cocoa-lacking – chocolate factory, moving through the rooms seeing one crazy machine pulsate and hum, then onto the next.

The highlight of experiencing such wacky and wonderful constructions was most definitely the dip-and-dunk machine which processes the negatives from the film, carefully dropping them into each chemical; contrary to the high-street dragging method, which can occasionally compromise the quality. There are only nine dip-and-dunk machines in the country, and Dan’s the proud owner of two of them: one fully functioning, and the other used to salvage parts and keep the other one going.

Dan emphasises that because of the lengthier process of doing everything by hand, you may have to wait a few more days for your film to be developed if you want to drop your negatives off, but the price is not much different to that on the high street.

On the last Wednesday of every month, there’s a photography social where people can gather and abide by a “no screens” policy, which literally means no showing images on screen. If you want to share them, they must be printed out, and you can get feedback for a project. “There are no pricks telling you that your work’s shit,” says Dan. “It’s just a dead good environment with dead good people.” And that’s exactly the atmosphere embodied by The Photo Parlour in its entirety.

After my negatives came out, Dan showed me how Photoshop tools came from “IRL” hand tools that are used to correct prints after they’ve been processed. A buffer, for example, is a wad of bluetack on a stick. Then there’s the teeny paintbrush set used to spot correct, which I was told is the most tedious part of the whole procedure. You sit down and look for white specs on the images – where there was dust on the negatives – and quite literally paint them out by hand. Dan’s preferred method is to stockpile these to do all in one afternoon, with music blaring to spur him on.

I suppose part of the charm of The Photo Parlour falls on knowing the maker and seeing him in his element. Dan knows the process like the back of his hand, and he remembers how his photographers like their film developed. Plus, anyone can just go in, have a look at the camera or photography books and have a chat.

There’s such a friendly atmosphere that’s completely lost elsewhere; nobody’s going to put you down for not knowing how things work, with people happy to teach those willing to learn. You can go in as a one-off and get your film developed, learn how to process your own film, have a chat with good people and just enjoy the experience.

The Photo Parlour, Unit 8, 19 Queensbridge Road, NG2 1NB. 0115 986 7776

The Photo Parlour website

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