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Cambridge Darkroom - Introduction

Photography is a curious, pluralistic medium: part art and part science; the stuff of both holiday snaps and glossy advertising; accessible to the raw novice yet capable of calling on the highest skill levels; a medium for literal visual documentation of our world and a way of exploring our personal inner visions.
Its mass appeal lies in this diversity and the challenge of reconciling its many forms into a unified statement of the medium’s potency. The Cambridge Darkroom rose to that challenge.

1st_identFrom its beginnings as a small community group in the backstreets of the city of Cambridge, UK, the Cambridge Darkroom rose to a level of prominence in the UK art and photography world that far exceeded the original ambitions of its founders. This was due in no small part to the expertise and dedication of its staff over the years, as well as to its contributors and supporters.

Now that it has disappeared from the real world, we thought it would be appropriate for its history to live on in the virtual world at least. A Google search for "Cambridge Darkroom" returns over 4000 hits; many of these are references to artists that had exhibited there during its 20 years' existence. This says something about its role as an enabler and facilitator for artists and photographers working and exhibiting during the closing decades of the 20th century.

2nd_ident-headerTo add to the wealth of general knowledge and information that the web aspires to provide, these pages aim to give some background to the Darkroom itself: how it came into existence, how it developed, how it was run, what it achieved, and how it ended. Written from the standpoint of two of the original founders, whose involvement only really occupied its early years, it is inevitably incomplete at the moment. We hope to engage people who worked there, exhibited there, or just visited, to give their perspective and add to this history over time.

Beginnings

St Matthews Photo Workshop

In October 1978 six people with a passion for photography met in the Dewdrop Inn Public House, Gwydir Street, Cambridge to form the St Matthews Photo Workshop. The Workshop group published four aims:

  • to make a photographic record of the people and buildings of the St Matthews area [an undeveloped Victorian inner-city part of Cambridge, UK]

  • to explore the particular social and environmental qualities of the area through photography
  • to make people in Cambridge more aware of the qualities of the area through photography; and
  • to find and record old photographs of the area.

Read more: Beginnings

The First Five Years

The Cambridge Darkroom was formally constituted as a company limited by guarantee on 11th January 1984. The objects for which the company was established were stated as:

‘to further and advance the education of the public in the art of photography and to promote public knowledge, appreciation and understanding thereof.’

Read more: The First Five Years

In Summary

The Cambridge Darkroom was something of a paradox. It was small, under-funded, provincial and committed to its local and educational roots, yet for much of its life it enjoyed a national and international reputation at the forefront of photographic art practice.

Read more: In Summary

The Later Years

The writers ceased to be involved in the day-to-day administration of the gallery from 1990 onwards, hence the material available for this later history is rather sparse. We would welcome contributions from anyone involved during these years. Please contact the author via the contact form.

Read more: The Later Years

Shows 1984–1996

This listing is as complete as can be determined from the records we have available at the moment. If you are able to fill in any of the gaps or suggest corrections, please get in touch.

Read more: Shows 1984–1996