multiple caffenol prints on a table
News & Events

New Caffenol Printing Workshop by Darkroom London

September 29, 2022

Darkroom London announced a new offering in their workshop repertoire, Caffenol Printing! The first workshop took place on September 18th, but they are planning a second one for November 19th. This is now open to book and all materials are included in the class fee. Participants do not need to have any prior darkroom experience.

Photographs made through Caffenol Printing prove that it is possible to develop prints (as well as film) without having to rely on toxic chemistry. Philip Grey, member of the Darkroom team and Catriona, a teacher at Darkroom London and leader of the new workshop, were kind enough to talk to me about the Caffenol Printing process and especially Catriona’s own history and experience with the art.

35MMC: Can you provide a background on how the idea for the Caffenol workshop came about?

Catriona: I have been teaching the ‘alternative’ workshops right from when Darkroom very first opened. A lover of alternative and darkroom techniques, I have a particular soft spot for anything you can produce with household products. It really increases the magic element of it for me. Caffenol has been around for a long time but I feel the time is right for it to get more attention as a more eco-friendly option in the darkroom but it’s a little bit trickier to work with.

caffenol print of wheat grass

Image provided courtesy of the Darkroom London – First Exploratory Session

Philip added, ‘The one [image above] of the ear of wheat is a print from the first exploratory session Catriona and I had after I had approached her suggesting that I was interested in adding a caffenol workshop to our roster of alternative process workshops. While it has an appealing aesthetic, it wasn’t the result we had been hoping for after seeing what other photographers had managed to produce. After a bit more research and recipe tweaking we came up with a new formula that we developed the other prints of the stack of stones in. IMG_3316 [below] is a comparison of the same negative printed in caffenol (top) and a regular print developer (bottom).’

two prints of stacked stones side by side on table

Image provided courtesy of the Darkroom London – Comparison of Caffenol to Standard Chemical Developer

35MMC: It is a printing workshop, but would the same process work for film development? Would that be covered in another workshop?

Catriona: Yes, Caffenol is actually more commonly used as a film developer actually. It seems less heard of to use it as a paper developer as it exhausts fairly quickly, which is tricky if you’re printing for a while in the darkroom. Caffenol film processing is perfect for anyone who processes just a few rolls at a time at home. We might well add Caffenol film processing to make this a longer workshop – watch this space!

35MMC: How did you become interested in caffenol developing and what has your journey with it been like? And could you describe your journey with film photography as well?

Catriona: I studied Photography at Glasgow Art School and spent every waking minute in the darkroom. In my final year I got heavily into alternative processes and destruction techniques. After graduating I worked as a professional darkroom printer for some of the best photographers in London. Commercial hand-printing darkrooms met with disaster when the digital revolution came so I found myself having to think again. I worked in London as a photographer’s assistant, commercial photographer and also worked for 2 years in Ukraine teaching English. I discovered a love for teaching and now here I am, teaching destructive/alternative/darkroom photography!

Specifically, Caffenol came from a desire to push darkroom photography in a more ecologically sustainable direction. And it doesn’t hurt that Caffenol prints are rich, warm and very beautiful!

35MMC: What do you think the future of film processing looks like? Can you see the majority of photographers opting for more eco friendly developers or staying with the traditional methods or a mix?

Catriona: I think it will be a mix, until a large company takes it upon themselves to make more eco-friendly chemistry. Caffenol and herbal developers create beautiful and effective results but are not as stable as commercial chemistry. I personally love that, there’s something a bit boring about knowing exactly how something is going to come out.

How to Sign Up & Additional Offerings

To sign up for the workshops, head over to the Darkroom London’s website here. There is still space available at the time of writing!

The Caffenol Printing workshop is a new one for the Darkroom, but they offer many other workshops centered around the darkroom and photography. A few alternative ones that are available to book at the moment are: Chemigrams, Cyanotype, and Polaroid Lift. They also offer introductory classes to camera and darkroom techniques. For their full listing of available classes, click here.

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