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Book tickets for A Very Special Place: Ikon in the 1990s.

IYP Darkroom Workshop

By Saffiyah Khan, Ikon Youth Programme member

In light of Janet Mendelsohn’s recent Varna Road exhibition, 12 members of the IYP (Ikon Youth Programme) took part in a darkroom workshop with film photographer, Effy Harle. The aim of the workshop was to experiment with 35mm film techniques used by Mendelsohn during the late 1960s. However, we were given a lot of freedom over how our 36 exposures could be used. Effy kept us supplied with a steady stream of visual inspiration by the likes of Dora Maurer and Bill Brandt, who were of the same era as Varna Road.


I borrowed a Canon AE-1 35 mm, which is a straightforward camera made in the late 70s and is, both then and now, very popular and an excellent camera for a film beginner, like myself. Effy helped the group fit black and white film in the first part of the workshop. We were then sent on our way, to regroup in a week at BOM (Birmingham Open Media). I felt it befitting to derive inspiration from Varna Road and found some striking themes exhibited throughout, which I would try to emulate in my own pictures. The three main themes I entertained were: poverty, destruction and intimacy, shown throughout the exhibition. The ruin of the old Birmingham Library building was great fun to photograph, purely because a film camera view finder makes everything look astounding. As I looked through my viewfinder, I was frequently overwhelmed with a wave of dread at the idea that my film may get ruined or over exposed and my scene, with which I had already formed an attachment to, may be lost. I suppose that is the fickle, delicate nature of film.

Meeting the following Thursday at BOM, we were guided by Effy through the darkroom. Effy’s knowledge of film cameras knew no bounds as she helped remove film from every camera model imaginable, in the dark. Eventually, the group managed to successfully develop their film and all that was left was to get it printed. I got mine printed at a high street photo developer and I am relieved to find that my film survived and not all my pictures are under or overexposed! I am very happy with the results of my first attempt at using film, and I think I was reasonably successful in portraying the ideas in Mendelsohn’s work. I’ve definitely caught the film bug. I would like to say thank you on behalf of IYP to Effy Harle, Claire Bird, BOM, the camera lenders and the IYP programme for continuing to create some amazing opportunities.


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