Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - At the Darkroom, a home for film photography lovers



At the Darkroom, a home for film photography lovers

A print hangs in the Darkroom’s drying room.
A print hangs in the Darkroom’s drying room. Eliah Lillis

At the Darkroom, a home for film photography lovers

A monochromatic image appears from nothing as a small group bunches around the developing pan, struggling to see through the dim red light. “There! Magic!” one of the participants says. The hushed atmosphere is otherwise interrupted only by the clicking of changing apertures. A strong chemical scent reminiscent of vinegar is in the air. This is Darkroom.

The creation of Rothany Srun, a Khmer-American, and Olivier Bonifacia, a Montreal native, Darkroom is the capital’s new home for film photography lovers. The two met by chance when a mutual friend was selling a Soviet-era darkroom enlarger.

Disappointingly, Bonifacia found that it had already been sold. He tracked down the original owner, an elderly Khmer-Chinese man who owned a local camera store, and Bonifacia put a call out to a small group of analogue enthusiasts to let them know about the bounty of equipment.

At the store, he crossed paths with Srun, who happened to have bought that original enlarger and had come along to purchase more. Ideas to build a darkroom were sown that same day.

“All of us were big camera nerds and when we found these enlargers it was just like ‘Oh my god, this is great. Let’s start a dark room,” she says. “I was kind of serious, but I didn’t know if anyone else was.”

Bonifacia was soon on board after gauging the interest of some of his photographer friends.

Darkroom has since transformed into a communal space for anyone who enjoys the analogue photography process, with users coming along for monthly introduction workshops, simple day use or becoming members to work in the space at their own convenience.

“I like that someone is there using it and taking advantage of it and making it their own,” Srun says. “Because that’s what it should be. I don’t want it to be called ‘my darkroom’.’”

Bonifacia agrees, calling it a “community space”.

In a country where darkroom photo supplies are hard to come by, and where digital photography has far surpassed film in usage, the target audience is niche.

“It’s great for people who are already interested in film and who already shoot film,” Olivier says, adding that film beginners are also welcome. “Those of us who have been in a darkroom ... remember our first time. I love seeing the photo come out... And I get excited sharing that.”

The process of sourcing equipment has been a challenge. Three Russian enlargers were sourced from the attic of the original camera store, one was brought over from Canada, lenses have been shipped from Eastern Europe, a safelight from Germany, film from Malaysia and Bangkok, and sheets of paper from North America. This has become an obsession for Srun.

“Every time I travel now I’m going to old photo stores, which I didn’t really used to do, but now I’m looking online and finding out where I can buy film, or old camera or enlarger equipment,” she said. “These people will sit there and show me their old cameras and how they work. It’s caused me to talk to so many different people from different places, and it’s a fun detour from my vacation.”

Daily rates are $7, which includes use of chemicals. Monthly rates are $35 and a pass for 10 visits is $60. The Darkroom is located at #15 Street 300, at the northeast corner of Street 113. Contact can be made via the website or via the Facebook page Darkroom Phnom Penh.

Eliah Lillis

MOST VIEWED

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • Khmer cinema classics back on big screen for free at WB Arena’s outdoor movies series

    On a recent Saturday evening at WB Arena, Bunsong was enjoying a tasty BBQ meal with his family after work on the long tables that had been arranged out in front of the restaurant as they watched a Khmer action movie on a big outdoor

  • PM heads to Washington for ASEAN-US special summit

    Regional and international issues and how to bring the ASEAN-US partnership to another level will be discussed at length as Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ministers arrive in Washington, DC, for a special summit on May 12-13. During the trip, Hun Sen and ASEAN

  • National Assembly refutes EU resolution

    The National Assembly (NA) has hit back at a European Parliament resolution condemning the political and human rights situation in Cambodia, calling it another display of the Parliament’s “double standards”. Key points of the resolution include a warning that the Parliament could exclude the